County CFO terminated for conflicts of interest

Camden County’s chief financial officer was terminated Tuesday, Nov. 27, for failure to disclose personal business relationships that created a financial conflict of interest.

Mike Fender, who has served as county CFO for more than 20 years, served as the chief financial officer for both a nonprofit and a for-profit corporation associated with Advance Learning Center, a private school that is operated by his wife. 

According to county administrator Steve Howard, Advance Learning Center received $430,497 in grant payments from the Camden County Public Service Authority dating back to 2007. 

“It’s a conflict. There is no way around it,” said Howard. “At the end of the day, I had to do the right thing.”

The PSA is currently the subject of a forensic audit that was prompted after the arrest of its former director, William Brunson, on charges of theft of government funds. The county had been providing payroll and human resources services to the PSA, which meant that Fender did have some financial oversight of the PSA, particularly when members of his staff started raising red flags about financial improprieties. 

Howard said Fender had several opportunities to disclose his relationship to the for-profit corporation or recuse himself from oversight of county services to the PSA, but did not. Howard said he started a few years ago requiring employees to disclose any outside employment so that any potential conflicts of interest could be identified and addressed. 

While Fender did disclose the nonprofit corporation on that form, Howard said he did not list the for-profit corporation that had been receiving the income. He said the relationship itself was not the problem, but the lack of disclosure. 

“This failure to disclose, notwithstanding your written acknowledgement of the applicable policies and the aforementioned partial compliance therewith, is exacerbated by your involvement in overseeing the financial activities of the PSA vis-a-vis Advance Learning Center, Inc.,” stated Howard’s Nov. 27 termination letter to Fender.

“Aside from whether this amounts to use of your county position for self-dealing for financial gain, during the recent financial review, you again failed to disclose your association and failed to recuse yourself from audit activities before discovery of your involvement with Advance Learning Center, Inc. Because of the seriousness of the conflict presented by your association with a for-profit business and your failure, despite repeated opportunities to do so, to disclose your association therewith and recuse yourself from participating in county activities relating to that business, it was determined that no lesser discipline than termination was appropriate.”

Howard said he became aware of the conflict in the spring but didn't act sooner because he had only recently received detailed information about the matter from investigators.

Tribune & Georgian

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