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Shocking

Shocking

Richwood’s municipal recorder paid herself more than $45,000 without getting approval from her city council, an investigation by state Auditor John McCuskey’s office contends. It adds that a former mayor paid himself $3,640 for four days’ “volunteer” work. City officials received about $500,000 in federal funds for emergency repairs to water system intake equipment — but spent only $400 for that work, using the rest for other purposes.

Some current and former Richwood officials face criminal charges as a result of McCuskey’s report.

Shocking? Outrageous? Indeed — but not as unsettling as another section of the auditor’s report.

“As of June 2018, the state had more than 575 projects dating back to disasters in 2012, 2014 and 2015 waiting to be reviewed and closed-out for local governments,” McCuskey’s office noted.

That brings up a troubling question: If the review of how Richwood spent federal disaster funds brought to light such massive misuse of public money, how many other local government officials in West Virginia have been getting away with the fiscal equivalent of murder?

Most of the seven recommendations contained in the auditor’s report were in regard to Richwood, which received nearly $3.1 million in federal funds intended to help the town recover from flooding in 2016. Much of the money allegedly was misspent, to the point that the city “has potential financial liabilities of nearly $3 million, and does not appear to have the financial means to pay off the liabilities,” according to the report.

Had it not been for calls to the auditor’s office seeking an investigation into concern about misuse of a purchasing card by the former mayor, McCuskey’s office might never have become involved.

Local governments, including boards of education, are required to have audits conducted periodically. But McCuskey’s report targets special spending such as that using federal funds for disaster recovery.

The auditor suggests in his report that the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety should “review and consider instituting better oversight” of municipalities and counties receiving money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

With 575 such projects not having been reviewed, that seems obvious. We shudder to think what auditors looking into that spending may uncover.

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