Laura started working for her Public Library last year. She was excited to be starting a new chapter in her career, and working in the administrative business office was a great way to get her foot in the door. She was trying to earn her Masters Degree in Library Science, and needed the salary to make ends meet till she earned that tiny piece of paper that made things so very official.
Laura shared a large office with her co-worker Cindy. Cindy had a strange obsession with succulent plants and grew them in abundance in the office window on top of old black file cabinets. A resin hedgehog sat on the windowsill sprouting spines of cactus, both incredibly cute and dangerously sharp at the same time. Just like a true hedgehog should be.
The Business Office Administrator had an office right next door, so Laura and Cindy had to keep their chatter and giggles to a minimum. They enjoyed their jobs and getting to know the others in in the building – even if they had been told not to talk too much with the other departments. Laura thought that was pretty odd .. being told to not talk to people. But this was her first city job and maybe that’s just the way things were. It didn’t stop Laura from being her cheery self. Who couldn’t like her bubbly personality and bright smile?
Down the hallway was a contracted accountant who was hired to take care of payroll and bill payments. He was a pretty gruff man and kept to himself most of the time. If you ever asked him for a favor, he’d grunt out a sharp NO and shoo you away. He was too busy to pay mind to anyone walking by his office door, and he certainly didn’t have time for chatter and smiles from the others in the building.
A few months in to her job, Laura and Cindy were notified that the Library was going to be undergoing a standard audit. They took place every few years, so no one thought anything of it. Cindy and Laura knew something no one else in the building knew, though. And they were not going to sit quietly too much longer.
Cindy first noticed there were some discrepancies with the accounts just before Laura joined the team. Joanna, another department co-worker, had started tracking their orders, purchases, and expenses – and when comparing records – things were just not adding up properly. Cindy brought this to the attention of the Business Administrator, who did nothing. Just before the auditors arrived, Cindy and Laura were asked by the office administrator to share a second set of books that she herself had been keeping. Not to show them the records that Cindy and Laura knew to be true.
Joanna had just been promoted to a full time position, and there were some issues with her Department Head going on that she didn’t fully understand. They were accusing her of not being able to communicate properly, and threatening her with termination from her position if things didn’t improve. Laura was being told the same thing by the Business Administrator- even finding a letter of termination on the office copier – left there for anyone in the office to find. Things were not right in the building – and both Laura and Joanna had had enough.
The next week, Cindy turned in her notice to take an extended medical leave. There was an illness in her family and she needed to be there to take care of her parents. She never returned when her medical leave expired – as she didn’t want to be mixed up with the audit and it’s results.
Laura was left to deal with the auditors on her own – and she had already made the decision to share with them EVERYTHING. She had already gone to the Business Administrator to express her concerns. When that promoted no response, Laura went to the Library Director and told her everything she had found. The second set of records she was asked to give to the auditors, the discrepancies in accounts that she had found, the funds that she had seen the consultant accountant expend to himself, and the Business Administrators signature on all those expenses. A salary that went to the consultant that was more than any other City Employee was making. Things were not adding up and Laura was not going to go down for it all.
Laura and Joanna were spotted chatting to each other during the Library Annual Staff meeting. This was a big event held each year to rally the troops and give out awards to the employees. A motivational Speaker is brought in to talk about how awesome life is working for the City – it’s supposed to be a huge team building event – but most of the employees are just thankful for having a day away from their usual tasks. It’s not unusual for folks from different departments and library branches to talk to each other – so why the big fuss with Laura and Joanna? The office managers were afraid they were comparing notes regarding the audit.
Joanna was asked by her Department Head the next day what they were chatting about. Asking if there was anything going on with the Department Budget. Joanna answered honestly – Laura and she had met during orientation and were just catching up since they hadn’t really had a chance to since that day. Joanna assured her Department head that the Department Accounts were good – and everyone moved on. What Joanna didn’t say was that Laura had told her everything that was happening, and warned her to be careful, not to trust the Business Office, and to protect her budget records.
Things in the office started to improve for Joanna after her conversation with the Department Head. Of course, Joanna had been speaking with both Human Resources and the Auditors Office by this point too, and Joanna wasn’t sure if they had said something. Joanna was still having difficulty trusting anyone in the building, and kept her ear to the ground for any information she could get to try and make sense of what was going on.
A few weeks later Laura took some time off. She had been receiving threats of violence from the accounting consultant. Laura had been working with the auditors for several months at this point, as well as the City Managers Office and the City Prosecutors Office. The case against the Business Administrator and the Accounting Consultant was progressing along, and everyone was starting to fell the pressure. The City decided to place Laura in what she and Joanna termed “City Protective Services”. They were moving her to a new position within the city to keep her safe, and no one was to know where she was moved to.
Laura was expecting her last paycheck from the Library but it didn’t arrive. She was asked to come down to Human Resources at City Hall to pick up her check, as the Business Administrator had indicated she was going to pick it up and hand it over to Laura personally. This set off a red flag with the HR rep. who reported the incident and sent the business administrator on her way.
Joanna was at her breaking point. She too was earning her Masters Degree and had decided to do her Independent Study project on Embezzlement in Public Libraries. She wanted to let her Department Head know everything she knew, and get her input on the project. They met off-site and hashed everything out. The Department Head pretended to be shocked by the news, and Joanna pretended not to know the Department Head knew everything already. The air was cleared, and Joanna felt confident moving forward in her position and with her project.
Around the same time it was announced that the main Library located Downtown would be breaking apart from the Public Library – administratively. They wanted to be able to manage their own programming and funding. Since this library was funded completely by donations, there was nothing anyone could do to stop the separation. The local newspaper posted a link on their Facebook page linking to the story, and a reader commented “Next thing you know we’ll be hearing stories about fraud.” Joanna responded “Sooner than that! The auditors are just wrapping up a report and I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t show some funny business. In fact, if nothing’s wrong in that report then the city is covering things up!”
That comment put all the powers that be on alert. Laura caught wind of the chatter and called Joanna to warn her that her Department Head may bring it up. But they never did. To this day no one has mentioned Joanna’s part in the auditors investigation – including the auditors. I think Joanna is pretty relieved about that – but it also means no one has asked her not to talk about it. She’s ready to raise the roof!
Two or Three weeks ago Laura and Joanna spoke – the Audit Report was ready. The Library Board of Trustees, Administrators and Managers had all reviewed the report and made responses. The City has a transparency policy – so this audit should have been posted to the Auditors website by now. But it hasn’t. The accountant consultant left the office in December when he heard the investigation was hitting too close to home. But he’s not yet been prosecuted for what he’s done nor asked to return the funds he has embezzled. The Business Administrator has been spending a lot of time out of the office – supposedly on training and leave. But she still works for the Libraries and is doing everything she can to get others to handle any and all financial transactions. Is she trying to distance herself from the issues or is she trying to cover her own butt? Joanna doesn’t know.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. Is the fraud still under investigation? Will the Board of Trustees and City Managers brush everything under the carpet trying to cover it all up? Will anyone be held responsible for the misuse of public funds? We may never know.