An accountability audit released paints a sad portrait of the Strawberry Commission, which has been around since 1993, but won’t be much longer.
If you are a state or local agency, the Washington State Auditor will eventually get around to poking through your books. Even if you are the Washington State Strawberry Commission and have — or had — just one employee.
An accountability audit released this week paints a sad portrait of the Strawberry Commission, which has been around since 1993, but won’t be much longer.
“The Washington State Strawberry Commission did not have adequate internal controls over cash receipts and expenditures, putting public funds at greater risk of loss, waste and abuse,” the Oct. 4 audit report concluded.
Auditors requested records of what the commission, which promoted strawberry marketing and research, collected in revenues from 2013 through 2017, but received only two years worth of records. They also were unable to trace bank deposits and were not provided documentation “for any payments made during the audit period.”
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The commission’s sole employee, who was unnamed in the audit and quit in 2017, “did not have an office or computer system to store records” and kept all records at his home. “The Commission made multiple attempts to obtain the supporting documentation but was unsuccessful. Our Office also contacted the individual and requested the Commission’s records, but he did not provide them,” the report states.
A negative audit finding like this would normally lead to calls for a blueprint for improvement, at the very least.
But that was moot in this case, because the Strawberry Commission is going away. “Because the Commission is dissolving, we are not making recommendations for future improvements,” the auditors wrote.
The commission is one of Washington’s 22 agriculture-marketing commissions, funded by assessments to growers, not taxpayer dollars. Growers had petitioned for disbanding it earlier this year, citing a decline in strawberry harvest and in interest in maintaining the commission, according to the Capital Press, which described the commission as essentially dormant for the past year.
An order dissolving the commission was signed by Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Derek Sandison in May.
Hector Castro, a spokesman for the department, said the commission stopped operations June 30. It will formally cease to exist after Dec. 31.
Castro said the Strawberry Commission’s woes were singular, and that despite its sloppy record-keeping he had no indication that money was misappropriated.
“By and large the other commissions are operating effectively,” Castro said. “I actually sit on the Potato Commission. They are a very effective commission.”