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Audit urges changes in license process

August 19, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

A state audit has recommended that the Washington County Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court improve its process for issuing business licenses.

The audit, made public Thursday, found that the clerk's office needs "adequate controls" for independently verifying license applications.

Dennis J. Weaver, county clerk of circuit court, said Friday that his office already has taken steps to address the critique.

One change is that when a business-license applicant asks a clerk to amend information listed in a database, a second employee in the office will be consulted.

The audit said a clerk who acts unilaterally "had the ability to modify critical information on the (Maryland) Judiciary's licensing database as well as to override system warnings without any independent review and approval. For example, a clerk could improperly issue a license to an applicant with outstanding State taxes by overriding the system warning."

In addition, Weaver said that there will be a spot check of about 10 percent of the license applications after they're processed to make sure the right fees were charged, a safeguard also suggested in the audit report.

An Aug. 5 letter from Weaver and Robert M. Bell, chief judge of Maryland's Court of Appeals, said: "We concur with the finding and recommendation. Office procedures have been strengthened to include review, verification, and approval of issued business licenses on a test basis. These transaction reviews are performed by an employee independent of the business license function. The results of the reviews are documented and maintained for future reference."

The Department of Legislative Services' Office of Legislative Audits examines a range of state government offices and operations every three years. The review of the local clerk's office covered Aug. 6, 2008, to March 27, 2011.

Business-license oversight was the only finding listed on the audit report.

Weaver said his office hasn't had any criticism in the last few audits, when auditors focused on the handling of money. This year, legislative auditors also looked at processes, he said.

The same critique was given to the clerks of circuit court in other jurisdictions, Weaver said.

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