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Auditing the Prime Minister
[09/16/2010] [Randall]

One of the most common problems in Amtgard seems to be bad record-keeping. It never fails when we're reviewing audit information for our sponsored parks that one of the parks is unable to submit a good audit because of a bad prime minister. It's not just us in Dragonspine, either. I talk to people all over the game who have had records disappear, important documents get lost, credits not get updated, and money get stolen. These problems are widespread, and they used to afflict us in Dragonspine proper now and then too. Note that I said "used to" there. That's because we saw the problems, diagnosed them, determined they were symptoms rather than problems, and fixed them. It's been over five years since we've had someone forget to pay for the kingdom's post office box, never mind the more serious stuff. We've got this thing down, and I'm going to tell you how.

Dragonspine was already pretty good when it came to record-keeping. In 2001, when I was curious to track our attendance over time, the prime minister was able to give me sign-in sheets going all the way back to our founding in 1990. Where we had problems was in occasional poor book-keeping, records not getting updated in a timely manner, and three incidents of money walking off the books. We'd occasionally have near-crises when the prime minister would spend kingdom funds on their own stuff (pizza, gas, etc) because they figured they had $20 in their car and could put it in the cash box later, or they were gonna get paid that Friday, and so on, and sometimes things didn't work out. There was also the post office box. The post office box became so useless due to prime ministers not paying for it, meaning we had to change our number every six months, that I just started having people send kingdom stuff to my house. It was a mess.

Sure, we audited our prime ministers, which is something a lot of groups seem to do, and we did it during the transition. When an old prime minister stepped down and a new one stepped up, we'd count the money, check the books, sign off on everything, and start fresh with the new one. In theory, this meant everything was in order and the records were well-maintained. In practice, y'all can probably guess how this actually went: prime ministers who weren't doing their jobs would frantically get everything updated a few days before the transition. To be fair, the job is a pretty thankless one. Heck, in Dragonspine proper, tradition says we don't even let the prime minister sit at the head table in court because they're the people's officer rather than part of the crown. How's that for thankless? I've done the job myself a few times, disastrously as a kid and less disastrously as an adult. Even though I think of myself as a pretty professional officer, it was hard for me to stay on task week to week. I figure it has to be hard for others to stay on task as well.

Well, we eventually got tired of this mess. As I said, we fixed it, and here's what we did: rather than audit the prime minister every six months, during which time a whole slew of problems could pile up and go undetected until it was too late to change course, we created a monthly audit process and made it one of the resposibilities of the Board of Directors. That means that the prime minister has to report to the board every four to five weeks during our regular meetings. This report is structured too, meaning that the prime minister is required to sign off on very specific items. You might want to audit different items, but here's the five items on our check-list:

  • We count the cashbox thoroughly and compare it to the ledger. It needs to match. We also ask questions if the cashbox has more than $100 in it.
  • We check the cashbox ledger thoroughly for errors.
  • We verify that the online records are up-to-date and spot-check them for errors.
  • We require the most recent bank statement and compare it to the bank ledger, checking the ledger for errors.
  • We ask for proof of when the post office box was last checked, and ask when it's time to pay the bill.

And when we had paper records, we checked those to see that they were up-to-date too. Now, in a perfect world, the prime minister is updating things every week and is on top of all their tasks. But even in an imperfect world where things sometimes slide from week to week, the audit-process confines the worst-case scenario to a smaller space. The worst things can slide, if the Board of Directors is doing its job, is a month. It's hard for things to get really bad in a month. The audit process therefore fixes problems in three ways. First, it ensures that the club will become aware of any problems early enough that they can be fixed. Second, it encourages the prime minister to at least be current on their job once a month. Third, it discourages theft of funds (or careless or cavaliar treatment of club funds) because the prime minister knows people are paying attention and asking questions on a regular basis.

After auditing all those items, we check off the ones that are in good order and put a bad mark next to the ones that are not. If everything is in order, someone will move to approve the audit, get it seconded, and we'll all vote to approve it, with the prime minister abstaining. If everything is not in order, there'll be a motion to not approve the audit. A failed audit gives you a few choices depending on why it failed. Since we implemented this process, we've only had one failed audit that I recall, and it was a good faith error that did not require further scrutiny other than a request to fix the error by the next audit. Had it gone further, or had the issue been significant, we would have taken the matter to the Althing, advised the populace of the problem, and requested the prime minister's removal as per the impeachment guidelines.

The audit checklist should reflect what you want the prime minister to be doing. If you have other items the prime minister is responsible for doing, you can add them to the audit process too, and you could also remove items (such as a bank account audit) if they do not apply to you. For example, if your prime minister needs to publish a newsletter, maintain the website, submit audits to the kingdom, et cetera, you can add questions about the status of those items to your audit checklist if you feel it's important to make sure they're getting done. If your prime minister takes care of club items that can be checked in and out, and they're going missing, maybe you need to add those to the audit list as well.

I believe in our audit process because it works. When I hear other people discussing paperwork or money troubles in their park, ours is the system I recommend to solve those problems. I think it's easy to do as part of a Board's regular business (and refreshing if your Board otherwise insists on doing stuff that's not its job). If your park lacks a Board of Directors, then you can just have your other officers conduct the audit. The important thing is to get the audit process instituted, make it transparent and open so the prime ministers know what is expected of them, and execute it consistently and in good faith.

In part, we've been fortunate that we've gone so long with no paperwork problems whatsoever, but it's a fortune we've made for ourselves. Other parks can do the same.

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