At the July 3 City Council meeting, I first asked for a forensic audit. I started to collect signatures on a petition to request an independent forensic audit from the City Council. The following week I reached out to an old friend who is a partner of one of the Big 4 accounting firms to clarify exactly what I should be asking for. He arranged a conference call for me with the head of the local government auditing department for his firm. I asked Libi to provide me a list of her top concerns to provide a framework for the conference call.
I learned in the call that many of the issues being raised by Libi’s audits may or may not indicate fraud or corruption. The auditor, also a partner of the firm, told me what concerned him the most was the delay the city was experiencing in closing their books and completing an audit. He told me the fact that each annual audit was taking longer and longer to produce indicated to him there might be some problems with the internal controls. During the call the accountants reviewed the last couple audits posted on the City of Beaumont’s website. They pointed out to me that the internal controls had been reviewed, not audited, and a report regarding the internal controls had been provided separate of the annual audit. They told me this was standard practice but it would be interesting to see the separate reports. I have been unable to locate these reports for the last two audits.
In the end, it was recommended to me to not request the forensic audit but focus on an audit of the internal controls. I was told the forensic audit would be costly and difficult to price since a forensic audit has no limits and no one knows where it will take the auditors and how long and costly the audit would be. The local government auditor believed the council would find the forensic audit too costly. The internal control audit would be cheaper and less invasive. It would be more likely to get support from a city council interested in oversight and true transparency. He told me the internal control audit would indicate whether or not the necessary controls were in place and whether they were being followed. If the internal control audit revealed serious issues, a forensic audit could be ordered later.
I had already obtained about 60 signatures for the forensic audit but now that an internal control audit made more sense I decided to hold on to the signatures and approach the council with a request to just discuss an internal control audit. I hoped a scaled back request would be seriously considered. I put a lot of thought and effort in the letter I sent to the council. I listed the concerns Libi had raised and I explained I wasn’t interested in finding criminal or unethical behavior. I never mentioned a forensic audit and argued that the council would benefit by an internal control audit from the increased public confidence even if problems were found. Knowing our city council members were fulfilling their oversight responsibilities and truly believed in transparency in government would get the public support behind them.
When I saw the agenda for the last meeting didn’t include an item for a public discussion about the internal control audit, I wasn’t surprised. When Mr. Castaldo’s comments indicated he hadn’t even read my letter, it led me to believe none of his colleagues had read the letter either. This did surprise me. The only explanation for their fear to even discuss my request is that they were worried about what might come out. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t know what an audit would reveal but they don’t seem to have confidence that everything is ok. Their refusal to even discuss an internal controls audit decreases the public’s confidence.
I have been disappointed to read the comments on the Patch following the meeting. Many of the Patch contributors, who have been urging the council to be more transparent and responsive to the citizen’s concerns, are now more interested in attacking and tearing each other down. Very few are questioning why the council is so adverse to even discussing a reasonable request. From what I can tell we all have similar concerns. I think we would be more productive as a citizenry to redirect our energy from attacking each other to a common goal of getting our council members to honor their oath of office and fulfill their obligation to put the community first. I will continue to press for an audit and find other ways to convince the city council that they will benefit from an audit as much as the public will benefit.
Comments on the Patch to my last post were mean spirited and unproductive; I believe my message was lost. I will be actively deleting comments I believe are personal attacks and unproductive. I will remove any personal attacks or comments that I don’t feel contribute to the discussion. If you believe this is censorship, you are right. You can direct your comments to me directly by sending an email to OurFocusOurKids@gmail.com.