A required internal audit by the state of the Wilkes County Clerk of Superior Court’s Office during the spring showed no areas where improvement is needed.
This is the first time the office has had essentially a perfect result since audits were instituted, Wilkes Clerk of Superior Court Regina Billings said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
This is the third audit conducted here since the practice was instituted statewide in 2014.
There are three possible findings within the various areas considered in the audit: effective, needs some improvement and needs major improvement. The Wilkes clerk’s office scored effective in every area, said Billings, who has been in office since Dec. 3, 2018.
“It is very difficult to achieve what we have achieved,” she commented. Billings said she wants her employees to get the credit for the exemplary audit, given their hard work and diligence. “They are the ones who did this,” she said.
Audits are conducted every three years by the N.C. Judicial Branch, which is under the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts. Conducting the audit was Jordan Samuel, a Wilkes native and graduate of Wilkes Central High School who is director of internal audit for the judicial branch.
In a letter to Billings releasing the final audit report, Samuel said, “Congratulations on an effective audit opinion. A big thank-you goes out to you and your staff for working so hard to reduce the risks of the judicial branch.”
The purpose of the audit is to “make sure we are protecting the judicial system,” Billings said. “We looked at our own logistics and made sure everything was right.”
“I knew we would get a good report,” she said, but the complete success of the audit “was just overwhelming.”
Billings, who has been working for the clerk of court’s office in Wilkes for 31 years, said she was nervous because this was her first audit as the elected clerk. “I represent the county, so this (strong result) is awesome.”
Areas covered in the audit included case-file compliance, cash, disbursements, general ledger, safeguarding of assets and human resources.
Billings said she was particularly proud that her office’s general ledger, which she described as “the center of the clerk’s office,” got such a clean bill of health.
This ledger includes minute accounting of bank statements, monies held in trust for minors, restitution payments, payments on probationary judgments, traffic ticket fines, money from civil judgments, estate monies— essentially any finances coming through the clerk’s office.
Billings said this is vital to her office and must be absolutely correct every day.
In addition, the ledger involves accounting for everything in the evidence room. Everyone accessing the evidence room must log in and log out, and only certain people are allowed inside.
The clerk’s office has to keep up with time frames for keeping evidence and follow through with judges’ orders for destruction of evidence when it no longer needs to be kept.
This includes drugs, guns, DNA evidence and anything else connected to criminal and civil cases, Billings explained.
She gave credit for the ledger compliance success to her administrative assistant, Carla Royall. “She’s my bookkeeper,” Billings said, smiling.
Assistant Clerk Teresa Stone, who handles many of the clerk’s duties in Wilkes Superior Court, also had a perfectly maintained evidence log, Billings noted. She explained that keeping up with the log is very complicated and is a testament to Stone’s abilities.
One of the biggest challenges for Billings and her employees was the fact that the audit began in April, right in the middle of North Carolina’s COVID-19 shut-down.
Since then, no one in the public has been allowed in the clerk’s office except those there for hearings, along with attorneys and judicial officials. All other business has been conducted at the office’s front office window, which opens up on the lobby of the Wilkes County Courthouse.
The 21 employees at the office have been coming in every other day, divided into shifts, she said. Billings comes in every day, making sure her employees always have access to her.
“Things are going well” despite these public health precautions, she said. “We had to keep (the office) open” for the public. The split shifts mean employees have to handle more duties in the office than they are used to, Billings said. It also has allowed employees to be “cross-trained” in various duties, which helps in any given week.
Billings said she depends on her employees and, when a problem arises, they get together for a “brainstorming session,” collaborating to find an answer.
In addition to Billings, Royall and Stone, clerk’s office employees include assistant clerks Crystal Nichols, Jeri Scott, Andrea Wilcox and Julie Church and deputy clerks Vickie Wingler, Melanie Myers, Katie Sexton, Santania Greene, Chris Perryman, Aubrey Groce, Jenny Hayes, Sara Leach, India Collins, Debbie Freeman, Lori Bledsoe, Jennifer Boone, Wendy Vannoy, Kristy Hayes and Miriam Holbrook.