County register of wills used state money to pay for fitness instructor, audit finds
Practice stopped after review finds expenditure unacceptable
The Maryland register of wills for Montgomery County spent $36,000 over three years on a fitness instructor for employees an unacceptable use of taxpayer funds, according to a recent legislative audit of the office.
Joseph M. Griffin said he has stopped the weekly fitness classes that began in June 2004 at his office. He ended the classes after receiving the audit report in July.
The legislative audit, released to the public Oct. 28, covers the period from April 11, 2006, to April 16, 2009.
The office's 40 employees were invited to attend a weekly exercise class led by a paid instructor. The exercise classes were held after work hours from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
A nutrition class also was held during work hours on some weeks, Griffin said.
"I canceled it as soon as the auditors raised questions," he said.
Griffin said the fitness program for his employees was acceptable and even encouraged by a state initiative to promote healthy habits among state employees. In 2006, the last legislative audit of the register of wills which is a state office found no problems with the use of state money for the fitness instructor.
However, in its most recent audit, the Office of Legislative Audits said fitness services are "not routinely budgeted nor procured by state government agencies."
"Furthermore, this procurement was not competitively bid, a contract was not executive, and approval was not obtained from the Comptroller of Maryland, as required," the report states.
The register of wills is an elected officer who serves a four-year term. The office oversees the administration of decedents' estates and provides assistance to individuals administering estates.
The office collects inheritance taxes and other fees, which are generally used to finance the office's operating expenses.
In a response to legislative auditor Bruce A. Myers, Griffin said that his office's total expenses for the three years subject to the audit were $1.2 million.
Griffin said the classes benefited his employees, who have requested to lead their own exercise program now that the instructor is no longer available.
Of possible future classes run by employees, Griffin said, "I want to have it, but I'm not going to do it unless I have written approval."