Lane County leaders are delaying their hiring of a permanent internal auditor for county government while they try to get a better handle on what they want from the position.

In the wake of several scandals surrounding former county administrator Liane Inkster, formerly known as Liane Richardson, the county commissioners in November expressed a desire to fill the auditor position, which has been vacant since 2010 when the last auditor retired.

Under county rules, the position reports directly to the board, with input from the administrator. The position is funded but not filled in the county budget, at the amount of $138,451.

The county's finance and audit committee -- led by Commissioners Pat Farr and Sid Leiken -- signed off Thursday on a proposal by interim human resources director Howard Schussler to seek outside auditing firms interested in performing an initial series of review projects on a contract basis.

Individual audit subjects would be set by the board, Schussler said. But they could include, for example, a review of whether the county is meeting the necessary criteria for the grants it receives, or whether personnel actions are complying with county rules and whether those rules themselves are effective.

Schussler recommended that staggered approach because of the county's uneven history with internal auditors. The county has had such a position, off and on, since the 1980s, before its last elimination in 2010. But the county's previous auditors often have been hampered by division among the county commissioners about what projects to undertake, Schussler said.

The current board of commissioners also needs to determine whether it wants an auditor with a "performance" background -- meaning a focus on reviewing county rules and procedures and how effective they are -- or someone with more of a financial and accounting background, he said.

Leiken backed Schussler's recommendation and "taking our time on this."

"I think (the auditor) needs to have an idea of what the expectations are from the board," he said.

Farr agreed that the recommended option "seems the prudent way to go."

The full board will take up the issue in late April.

The finance and audit committee also heard from county staff about their progress on a series of improvements to county rules and procedures recommended by an external audit of Inkster's tenure.

Among other changes, the county will draft and distribute a formal ethics policy; establish a confidential hot line for anonymous reports of potential fraud or other abuses; and clarify both the general rules for employees who use county credit cards and the penalties for violating them.

The outside audit, a summary of which was released by the county in late Feburary, identified several areas of concern but "no major findings and no fraud." Moss Adams, a Eugene-based public accounting firm, conducted that review.

Inkster was fired for, among other things, boosting her take-home pay by cashing in more unused sick leave and vacation time -- or what the county calls "time management" -- than county policy allowed.

Also, after she was fired, it emerged that Inkster had appointed a city of Eugene police officer, with whom her husband alleges she was having an affair, to an internal county committee and had scheduled him to attend an out-of-state conference with her and other county employees.

Follow Saul on Twitter @SaulAHubbard . Email .

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