The mayor suggests private donations to finance the audit
Since Keith Gaskin was sworn in as mayor on July 1, he said several members of the community offered him a version of “if I can help you do something, let me know”.
There is definitely something they can do, Gaskin said, and now he’s letting them know.
Tuesday, representatives of two companies – Legier and Company CPA and legal advisers from New Orleans, Louisiana and Jackson’s GranthamPoole Certified Public Accountants – will offer their services to the city council for a forensic audit of the city’s finances.
The cost of the audit, Gaskin said, could reach “six figures.” To pay for this, he wants the city to set up a special fund for private citizens to donate to the effort.
“People help things for the city, but the city has to affect it,” Gaskin told The Dispatch Thursday. “… It’s like someone is saying, ‘I want to buy a planter to put it up in front of the town hall.’ … If someone says, “I want to give $ 10,000 to the forensic audit,” they give $ 10,000 which will be put into an account that can only be spent on that. And it will be audited.
Gaskin initially expressed support for a forensic audit during his election campaign and announced in August that he planned to interview companies with that expertise and ask city council to hire one.
The move comes after years of deficit spending in the city budget and former CFO Milton Rawle pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $ 290,000 in city funds between December 2016 and December 2018. Rawle was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Gaskin said the companies would run for the board on Tuesday and that he would ask for a vote on whether to hire one of them on October 19.
Some council members, mainly Jacqueline DiCicco from Ward 6, publicly supported a forensic audit. Others, including Joseph Mickens of Ward 2 and Stephen Jones of Ward 5, previously told The Dispatch their support hinged on the cost of the forensic audit to the city.
Even though the city absorbs the full cost, Gaskin said, representatives from Legier and GranthamPoole told him that forensic audits typically make cities more money over time than audits cost to conduct.
Additionally, Gaskin said he believed the overwhelming majority of the public wanted this to happen.
“I’m not trying to sell the board,” Gaskin said. “I think the council needs to listen to its constituents. There is a definite outcry in the community for this. In my opinion, if we don’t, we will never get the credit for our riding. The majority of the people of Columbus, I believe, would like to see this happen.
“Everywhere I go, everywhere I speak, people from all walks of life ask me, ‘Where are we on forensic auditing? When do you think we’ll start? ‘ “, he added.
Asking for private donations to fund the audit would essentially be a “membership fee,” said Logan Reeves, director of media relations for the office of State Auditor Shad White. Cities creating such private avenues to fund public functions is “not at all common” but generally permitted.
“The (council) is allowed to vote to accept donations from the public for a specific purpose,” Reeves said. “The (council) should also vote (in a separate motion) to spend these funds.”
What the audit would involve
Gaskin said a forensic audit would be “a whole different animal” than his annual audit – which looks at the city’s finances and accounting practices more broadly.
The forensic audit is much more in-depth, closely examining bank documents and interviewing employees, contractors, third-party organizations, “anyone involved in the finances of the city,” Gaskin said.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It will take time. “
Gaskin said the forensic audit would likely cover the past seven years and the city would contract an outside lawyer, rather than City Attorney Jeff Turnage, regarding the audit. Once it is completed, Gaskin said a report on the audit findings will be made public.
A major factor leading to the need for a forensic audit, he added, is cleaning up the city’s finances and getting a clear picture of its fiscal health. Even larger annual audits found the city’s accounting practices to be lacking, according to reports filed with the state auditor’s office.
“We know from previous reports that the city didn’t have a lot of good internal controls or best practices in place,” Gaskin said. “… This city has to get to a point… where we have the confidence of the community that we are working on a budget of our own, that people are convinced that we have all the procedures in place to be the best stewards possible.
Gaskin expects the audit to find cases of accidental hijacking that the city can rectify with better procedures. He may also find more criminal activity.
“Both (the companies) of what they told us about and what they learned, it gave me the impression that there was more misappropriation than what was recovered,” said he declared.
Either company will keep the city up to date on the total running costs of the audit, Gaskin said, which means the city could guide or change the scope as it goes and it doesn’t ‘there would be “no surprise bill at the end”.
“I would be very comfortable with either of these companies to do the job,” he said. “They were very professional and they are both very interested in doing the job. “
Zack Plair is the editor of The Dispatch.