Newspaper: public deserves more openness from Pasco County Sheriff's Office

(PASCO COUNTY, Fla.) -- Eight days into its lame-duck status, the Pasco sheriff's administration handled an embarrassing internal control issue with the same clumsiness that had become a too-frequent trademark of Sheriff Lee Cannon's tenure.

Responding to reporters' inquiries, a sheriff's major, sergeant, detective and public information officer - but not Cannon - acknowledged Wednesday they don't know the whereabouts of money that should be in the department's property evidence building in Dade City or sitting in an interest-bearing bank account.

But the candor ended there. Instead of frankness, the public received evasiveness and semantics.

The cash isn't missing, a sheriff's spokesman maintained, even though the search has been on for more than nine months. It's been "misplaced," said public information officer Kevin Doll. The spin is pointless and insulting to the public's intelligence. Cash gone for nine months is lost or stolen, not "misplaced."

Likewise, authorities declined to specify the amount missing except to say it was less than $10,000. The equivocating is hard to figure considering they also said the cash is not evidence in a pending criminal case. Why the secrecy then?

The cash, seized during an arrest, was discovered missing after employees realized other physical evidence tied to the same case was not where it should have been. That evidence - again the agency won't say what or from which case - was found a week later inside the building, but the money has not been located.

In response, sheriff's officials started to inventory the property building, restricted access to only a half-dozen employees and sped up a previously planned effort to affix bar-codes to evidence packaging to better track it. The pace of the work is troublesome. Since March, the department has audited only 25 percent of the property in the building. At that rate, the public can expect a completed inventory by early 2003.

Accelerating that project or instituting another audit and his own internal controls will be one of the questions to be considered by Sheriff-elect Bob White after he assumes office. On Monday, the sheriff promised a smooth administrative transition and an openness toward White that had never been given to Cannon by his predecessor.

(iSyndicate; St. Petersburg Times; Nov. 17, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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