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Audit shows Oak Harbor city pool aswim in controversy

An investigation by the state Auditor’s Office into the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District found a long list of problems, including missing money, in a now-defunct fund set up for the aquatics club.

The Auditor’s Office forwarded the report to the Island County Prosecutor’s Office.

Prosecutor Greg Banks said he contacted the Oak Harbor Police Department for a follow-up.

The auditors recommend that the district go after both a former Aquajets coach and former administrative assistant, or possibly an insurance bonding company, for $7,818 in investigative costs.

The findings, which followed a year-long investigation, offers some vindication for Bill Walker, the district’s embattled director.

Not long after he was hired last year, Walker fired swim coach Neil Romney and administrative assistant Vikki Robinson when both refused to provide him with a password for the swim club’s bank account.

He was harshly criticized for the terminations by many of those involved in the swim team.

Both Romney and Robinson filed wrongful termination lawsuits — still ongoing — against the district and Walker. Their attorney, Bob Butler of Bellingham, said he and his clients are pleased with the audit because it shows “the length of which the current director will be willing to go to in order to malign my clients.” Butler claims paperwork that would clear his clients is missing.

“We’re buoyed by the auditor’s findings,” he said, “because I think once we get in and are able to show the information provided was either negligent or intentionally misleading, and both Romney and Robinson should come out looking good in the not-so-distant future.”

Neither Romney nor Robinson could be reached for comment.

Allan McDougall, a commissioner in the district, steadfastly defends Romney.

“I don’t believe Neil is a crook in any way,” he said.

“I can attest to his honesty.”

McDougall admits that the former coach hated bookkeeping and the account was a mess, but he’s convinced Romney would never intentionally do anything wrong.

After Romney and Robinson were fired, Walker obtained access to the account. He said he found irregularities and contacted the state Auditor’s Office.

The investigation, which covers 2011 and 2012, focused on both the “coach” and “treasurer.”

Walker declined to comment on the audit report, except to identify the individuals involved. He said the coach and treasurer in the report are Romney and Robinson.

The auditors said they found more than $18,000 in adjustments made to club members’ accounts without explanation.

On her last day of as treasurer for the swim team, Robinson posted $2,738 to her own family’s account without making a payment.

In addition, the account of another club member who owed more than $8,000 was reduced to zero without any payment.

The audit report states the member only made four of the monthly payments over a three-year period and wasn’t charged late fees.

Walker identified the club member as Lynne Vagt; he claimed she is friends with Robinson.

Vagt is a harsh critic of Walker; she announced last month that she pulled her family from the program after district commissioners refused to fire Walker.

Vagt did not return a call for comment.

After she was contacted by auditors, Robinson defended herself, saying that her account was “moved to a paper file” and should not have been credited, the report states.

The auditors noted that an adjustment entry in Vagt’s account also stated the account was moved to a paper file.

In both cases, the paper files could not be found, the audit states.

Robinson and Vagt made payments in full after the auditors completed their fieldwork, the report states.

The auditors also found, according to the report, that Romney submitted and received reimbursement requests to the district for $639 he had already paid with checks from the aquatic club account.

When contacted by auditors, Romney said he made errors in reimbursement filings.

The Auditor’s Office recommends that the district recover the $639 from Romney.

In addition, the auditors said they found $13,900 in reimbursements Romney and Robinson paid to themselves and two volunteers were not supported by receipts.

When contacted, Romney provided credit card statements showing what $11,698 of the questioned reimbursements were for.

“They were not detailed receipts so we could not confirm the purchases served a district purpose,” the audit reported.

Robinson told auditors that the district should have the receipts for the expenses, but none could be located.

The report states that Robinson was the only one involved in collecting funds and posting payments. It states that the auditors were unable to identify any misappropriation in cash receipts, but were also unable to confirm that none occurred “due to weaknesses in internal controls.”

In the district’s official response to the audit report, Walker wrote that the swim team’s independent account was closed, the district strengthened internal controls and swim team members’ accounts are each independently reviewed.

Walker wrote that the district will follow the auditors’ recommendation and demand the $639 from Romney and will seek recovery of the $7,800 in costs from the investigation.

 

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