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Council term ends with auditor controversy

The final regularly scheduled meeting of this session of the Demopolis City Council closed amid controversy last night, as District 5 representative Jack Cooley objected to mayor Cecil P. Williamson hiring an auditing firm for a high cost without consulting the council.

“This is for the edification for the council members,” Cooley stated. “As all of you will recall, last year, an accounting firm out of Andalusia contracted with us and audited the city for the past year for around $18,000. On Oct. 14 — this week — Mayor Williamson exercised her authority on professional fees and has contracted the accounting firm out of Montgomery that will charge the city a little over $47,000. I just think you all should be aware of it.”

“And if you would like to know the rest of that story, I’d be glad to tell you,” Williamson said, and continued around the table to allow other council members to bring up items of note.

District 1 representative Thomas Moore did not have anything to mention, but outgoing District 4 representative Woody Collins — a member of the city finance committee along with Cooley — did respond.

“I’d like to hear the rest of the story,” he said.

“You’d like to know the rest of the story?” Williamson asked. “The rest of the story was that I called the auditor that we had engaged last year — and I started in September knowing that the auditor had to be selected by the end of September — and he said that he would get back to me.”

“They don’t have to be, by any statute selected by the end of September, correct?” Collins asked.

“No, but that’s the end of the (fiscal) year,” Williamson said.

“We have had audits come in as much as a year late,” Collins said.

“Oh, yes, we certainly have,” Williamson said. “We’ve definitely had them come in a year late.”

“So, this was your time frame that you established, that you wanted by Sept. 30,” Collins said.

“I wanted an auditor by Sept. 30 so that the next council would have the audit by January,” Williamson said, “but the first two years that this council was in action, we didn’t get our audit until September of the next year, and September of the next year. It’s very difficult to make corrective actions when you don’t get an audit until a year later. So, that was the reason that I was trying to act so promptly, and I believe that this body was the one that told the auditor last year that we wanted our audit in January. You don’t get your audit in January unless you start early.”

“Last year, with the council’s involvement, we received an accounting bill of $18,000,” Collins said. “You told Mr. Cooley and I today at the finance committee meeting that you made this decision on your own volition — legally, I might add, for professional services — without the council’s involvement, and it’s costing us an additional $30,000. It just makes sense to me that you would involve the council for some help in this. If our cost is going to go from $18,000 to $47,000 — that’s asinine.”

“I agree with you,” Williamson said, “and I wouldn’t have had to do that, had the accounting firm that we used last year — when he finally confessed to me that he felt that he had been told — he had been contacted by a member of this council that he probably didn’t need to waste his time becoming our auditor because the next council was going to fire him.

“So, by the time I got that information, and I pulled out all the RFPs (requests for proposal) that we had received last year and contacted other firms who were smaller, and rather than take the risk of contacting somebody who was not going to do a good job, and do a good job that I felt the City of Demopolis deserved, I started contacting them, and smaller firms were already booked. They had already been engaged, and that’s the end of that discussion.”

“If this council were to request of you that you write a letter on behalf of the mayor and council canceling the contract and letting the next council select the next auditor —“ Collins asked.

“No, I would not,” Williamson said.

“So, the community is going to have to eat $30,000 because you want it to,” Collins said.

“I wanted to get the audit done in time,” Williamson said, “and I’ve already contacted companies, and they were not able to get it done.”

“What prevents this city, if this council were to make that decision — you just stated that you would not write that letter, even if it were the wish of the council,” Collins said.

“I contacted several auditing firms, and all of them are already engaged,” Williamson said.

“Give us a chance,” Collins said.

“I don’t think this council can fire the firm that you just hired, can we?” Cooley asked.

After the meeting, mayor-elect Mike Grayson commented on the controversy.

“Wilson Price (the firm selected by Williamson) is an excellent firm,” he said. “I’m very familiar with them. I know several of the partners. It’s not a problem with the firm; it’s just at $47,000 a year, we just can’t afford that. We cannot afford that. I feel like we’re going to have to be a little more diligent in seeking out a firm. No, I will not pursue that.

“The firm we had was Rabren and Odom, and members of the council were not pleased with their work from last time, so apparently, that’s why they decided not to send in the letter of engagement. But I’m sorry; that’s just a little too rich for us.”

Other actions taken by the city council included:

The council approved Nov. 3 at 8 a.m. for the special-called meeting to swear in mayor-elect Grayson and the city council members.

The council approved by a 4-1 vote a resolution allowing the Alabama Dept. of Transportation to continue work on a bridge in French Creek. Thomas Moore voted against the resolution, while Jack Cooley approved of it with objection. It was said that the work would not be done without the resolution from the council.

The council approved 4-0 the nomination of Linda Burnham to the cemetery board of trustees. The council accepted the increase in fees by Advance Disposal of 16 cents per house per month as approved by state statute. Melvin Yelverton abstained from the vote.

The council granted a pardon for Steven Marion Foster.

The next scheduled Demopolis City Council meeting will be on Thursday, Nov. 6, at 5:15 p.m. in Rooster Hall.