Ben Franklin Transit addresses State Auditor's report

Ben Franklin Transit addresses State Auditor's report
TRI-CITIES, Wash. - "I am not sure what's going on and why it's going on," said Starr Bowling, BFT customer. She isn't the only one asking those questions.

After the State Auditor's office released a report finding that Ben-Franklin Transit mishandled millions of dollars KEPR went to the agency for answers.

We got none.

A canceled interview and promises of a written response that never arrived. A day later, a different story. KEPR sat down with BFT Spokesperson, Kathy McMullen.

We asked, "In terms of our request for a response. Why wait 24 hours?

Kathy said, "actually, I didn't wait 24 hours. I got a call, I was in meetings yesterday morning, I got a call at about 1:30 wanting an immediate response, I hadn't even read the report, which is, I might add 41 pages long."

To be fair, that urgent interview request with Kathy was only made after BFT canceled a prior scheduled interview. We wanted to know why the agency hadn't made changes after the State found years of reporting mistakes. BFT had been made aware of those concerns each year.

We asked, "How does the agency explain seven years of bad reporting?"

Kathy's reply, "there were not seven years of bad reporting. I went back, I've actually got the print out right here of 2010, 2008. I looked at 2009 online. There were no deficiencies, there were no recommendations."

To make sure our story was accurate, we called the State Auditor's Office.

Mindy Chambers with the State Auditor's office said, " We have noted at least back until 2007 that they've had issues with accurate financial reporting."

To clarify we said, "so there was not necessarily a citation or finding issued, basically recommendations on how to improve their practices."

Mindy's reply, "correct."

To prove they had nothing to hide, BFT let us keep this stack of paperwork, detailed reports from the State Auditor's office for the past several years. Information they used to answer our questions.

It's important to note there are no allegations of fraud, simply concerns about the way BFT kept track of your money.

Kathy continues, "it's just a matter of where the money was reported within the books. It's all in the books, it's all there. We have just made shifts between the different codes, accounting codes."

But being called on this, year after year, why haven't the recommendations stuck? Kathy tells us more staff was hired to handle the changes.

We asked, "What is the State Auditor's office report going to say for 2012?"

"I think for 2012 we'll have a clear bill. We're working very closely with all the new guidelines," said Kathy.

Riders told us they'll be looking for that.

Starr said, "it really takes the trust and makes it go out the door."

We'll know in about a year when the agency opens its books to the state again.

BFT maintains that they've always had a very transparent process and welcome the public to call anytime with questions or concerns about the agency.