Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh’s office held a press conference Tuesday morning to discuss the results of a months long audit by the Orange County Comptroller’s office.
By Jacob Engels
After a significant amount of hullabaloo, Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh and his office was cleared today by the Orange County Comptroller after an audit process that was described by one insider as “exhaustive and extensive.” Singh, who defeated longtime incumbent Bill Donegan in 2012, has been the subject of numerous volleys from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and outgoing District 1 County Commissioner Scott Boyd.
Established special interests that saw their access and special favors dry up when Singh took office, have been vocally upset with his refusal to artificially inflate or undervalue property values. While the office regularly undergoes a yearly auditing process, Boyd, who was at one time mounting a challenge to Singh in 2016, publicly called for an audit and was quickly supported in that request by Mayor Jacobs – basing their request on nothing more than rumors of misuse. No whistleblower, no evidence of actual wrongdoing.
As a result, Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie began what many saw as a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Ultimately, Haynie’s audit would narrow to just under $100,000 of purchase card spending, less than 0.1 percent of the Property Appraiser’s total annual budget. According to the official report released by the Orange County Comptroller’s office, Mr. Singh and his employees operated within the letter of the law, and followed best practices.
“The property appraiser’s purchases were materially in compliance with the offices policies and procedures, state rules and laws, and best practices for government funds,” the final audit report stated.
Larry Brown, an attorney and shareholder at Greenspoon Marder’s government relations division, was retained by the property appraiser’s office during the audit, referred to the review as “extremely rigorous.”
“The conclusion that was reached? That Mr. Singh and the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office was in compliance with all laws. We remain open committed to continuous improvement.”
Sought after CPA Farlen Halikman, who worked with the property appraiser’s office to facilitate and coordinate the audit with the comptroller, pointed to the fact that they were found to be in compliance and that under Singh, the office has operated well below its allocated budget.
“There has been an extremely prudent use of funds.”
Doug Guetzloe, a taxpayer watchdog and leader of the influential “Ax the Tax” group, said that opposing downtown special interests is always problematic for those challenging the status quo.
“It is good business to audit and review these offices, but not based on political rhetoric.”
Singh finished the press conference by calling on the Mayor, County, and County Commissioners to be open for a similar audit, hoping it would clear up any confusion about potential political motivations behind the review of his office. Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, who is up for re-election in the 3rd district, told the East Orlando Post that he believes that transparency is paramount in good governance.
“Our door is always open and we are happy to have our books reviewed.”
Government accountability expert and former city manager James DeCocq argued that the Charter Review Commission should put in place penalties for elected officials who push for audits without having concrete evidence of wrongdoing.
“I would suggest that because this audit was called for with seemingly little more than whispered suspicions, and since nothing of significance was apparently found, that whomever called for the audit should be held personally financially responsible.
In addition to the County Comptroller and staff being taken from their daily tasks to invest personnel time and tax dollars into this effort, the Property Appraiser’s Office must have additionally had internal as well as external costs, paid for by the good people of Orange County.
And for what? It probably cost more in tax dollars to perform this audit than the seemingly arbitrary questions and suggestions would have ever recouped, for these are items that would have been discovered during the scheduled and budgeted annual audit.”
The positive outcome of the Orange County Comptroller’s audit is a second victory in recent weeks for Singh, who along with Sheriff Jerry Demings and Tax Collector Scott Randolph successfully fought off changes to the charter that would have stripped them of their independence and autonomy.
“Our staff remains committed to bringing this office into the 21st century, improving our service to the citizens of Orange County in every way possible. Now, we return to our work on behalf of our phenomenal residents,” concluded Singh in an exclusive comment to the East Orlando Post.
With Mayor Jacobs and Comptroller Haynie telling the Orlando Sentinel’s Stephen Hudak that they did not commission the audit… just who did?
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org