Whatever good news there is to be found among the serious allegations put forth in a 63-page N.C. State Auditor’s report on spending and accountability by some Tarboro officials – past and present – begins on page 29.
That’s where Mayor Rick Page, the Town Council and Town Manager Alan Thornton respond to each point of the state’s findings.
Of course, since Page is one of the unnamed subjects of the audit, some folks likely will temper their enthusiasm for the policy reforms detailed in the town’s rebuttal. But it’s worth noting that Thornton, in particular, has looked for ways to cut expenses and help revise policies to prohibit certain practices alleged to have occurred before Thornton came on board in 2011.
Beyond that, the audit offers a stark picture of a pretty awful mess.
It contends that a former town manager diverted almost half a million dollars in taxpayers’ money to buy sporting equipment, clothing, computer accessories and much more – mostly for personal use. Included in that sum were reimbursements from the town for travel and meals at expensive restaurants that the audit contends were unnecessary to the performance of his job.
As Tarboro Weekly staff writer John Carson has reported, N.C. State Auditor Beth Wood has turned over her findings to the State Bureau of Investigation and the N.C. Department of Revenue, among other government agencies. The report stops short of naming the officials under scrutiny, but it’s clear from the dates involved that the focus of the audit concerns spending that occurred when Sam Noble held the town manager’s post.
Noble deferred questions to his lawyer after the audit became public. Noble’s lawyer says his client has done nothing wrong and that the facts will exonerate him.
No one has yet to be charged with any criminal activity, but whatever checks and balances existed in the town’s administration through 2011, when Noble retired, were largely ineffective, based on the audit’s findings.
It’s reassuring to note that Tarboro has adopted new codes and policies to prevent the kind of misappropriations alleged in Wood’s report.
How well the town as a whole weathers this storm will depend largely on the ability of Tarboro’s leadership to handle a crisis of an alarming magnitude.