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Wednesday April 16th 2014

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‘Big Boys & Girls’ Clash with Mayor

The continuing back-and-forth between the Pensacola City Council and Mayor Ashton Hayward has found its newest venue: the audit selection committee.

“I almost wish I didn’t care,” Councilwoman Maren DeWeese charged onto the battlefield. “It’d been a lot easier to let this shuttle on by us.”

The council’s Committee of the Whole meeting Monday tackled procedural issues regarding the annual audit and also evolved into a broader, and recurring, discussion about the city’s balance of power. DeWeese encouraged her fellow council members to “stand up, dust ourselves off, be big boys and girls” and to “not let the mayor have all the power.”

At issue was the composition of the city’s audit selection committee, as well as the RFP process. DeWeese argued that the committee—not solely city staff—should have input into the request for RFPs and also felt that the committee’s composition should be reevaluated.

“It’s for us to appoint the entire committee, it is our decision,” the councilwoman said. “This is a legislative function.”

In February, the city council approved selecting an external auditor via an RFP (Request for Proposals) process. The audit selection committee was to be comprised of a council member, the city’s chief financial officer, a member of city staff and a citizen appointed by the mayor.

Prior to yesterday’s meeting, DeWeese had laid out her argument in a series of letters to city administration. She contended that the current committee make-up could potentially present a “taint to the auditor selection process” and requested that the RFP process—which began at the end of March and wrapped up earlier this month—be reassessed.

“If the process moves forward before council takes up the issue, I consider this to be an example of management override of internal controls …” DeWeese wrote.

Pensacola City Administrator Bill Reynolds responded that the mayor’s office was “disinclined to stop that process.” In a letter to the council, he conceded that DeWeese was correct that the “audit selection committee should have input into the the requirements of the RFP per state law,” but said “all substantive elements that the statute outlines are included in the RFP.”

“The procedural defect in the action as outlined by the councilwoman can be easily cured by having the constituted committee ratify the actions previously taken,” Reynolds wrote to the council in a May 7 letter.

When the issue came up during this week’s COW meeting, council members were less interested in ratifying past actions and more intent on discussing the process.

“This process is terribly flawed,” said Councilwoman Sheri Myers, asking why Mayor Hayward was so heavily involved in the process. “There is no authority, whatsoever, anywhere, for the audit committee to submit anything to the mayor for him to submit his recommendations to the city council for their approval.”
Council members turned to City Attorney Jim Messer for some clarification.

“Is that true?” asked Vice Chairman Ronald Townsend.

“If the question is, as Councilwoman Myers said, ‘is there any reference to the mayor in either the law or the policy?’ No,” Messer said, adding that the council could remedy the situation by ratifying past actions.

The council did not seem to be warming up to the concept of giving its blessing to the already-commenced RFP process. The board continued to question Messer on specifics.

“Basically, we did not follow our policy, is that correct?” said Councilman Larry B. Johnson.

“Most of the requirements of the law have been followed,” Messer said. “However, if you’re asking me if all the requirements of the law have been followed, then no.”

“If we don’t ratify it as you just said, we’re really setting ourselves up for a legal challenge,” Johnson said, anticipating responses from firms already engaged in the RFP process.

“What I’m saying is, we don’t know that yet,” Messer said, adding that such an issue could be avoided by ratification.

In the end, the council decided to scrap its February 23 decision and to place two council members and two council-appointed citizens to the audit committee. Selecting the citizens may prove easier than finding willing council members.

DeWeese, who had previously stated that she would not serve on the committee due to personal and past professional relationships she and her husband have with potential auditors, started the nomination process by offering up Councilman P.C. Wu.

“He just declined,” said Townsend, as Wu began shaking his head as soon as the nomination was made.
“Well, I declined three times,” DeWeese countered.

Councilman Johnson was nominated next. He, too, bowed out.

“At this time,” he said, “I’m just overloaded.”

Councilwoman Megan Pratt’s name was thrown into the hat next.

“I don’t do numbers,” Pratt said.

The other council members, however, wouldn’t let Pratt loose and placed her on the audit committee. Upon realizing that no one else seemed eager to take the number two slot, Townsend suggested Chairman Sam Hall—who was not present for Monday’s meeting—for the post.

“He’ll be OK with that,” Townsend laughed.