|Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett|
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
By Jill Peterson
Commissioner Bill Lockett brought up again at Monday’s committee meetings his desire to have forensic audits conducted in the Augusta-Richmond County government. The wording on the agenda was as follows:
Task the Administrator with utilizing the procurement process to solicit the services of an outside forensic auditing firm to perform an audit of the city’s finances and contractual obligations. The audit must include but not be limited to the following: (a) TEE Center Parking Garage/ Land Acquisition/ Associated Leases/ Financing, (b) Utility Department Water Rates for Golf Courses/ Other Special Agreements, (c) Environmental Services Division, (d) Augusta Transit Department Privatization, (e) Augusta Municipal Golf Course Privatization, (f) Retroactive Pay Increases, (g) SPLOST Fund Projects, and (h) Land Bank.
In Lockett’s explanation of his request, he explains that he’s uncomfortable with the way the Commission was told land would be donated for the parking deck and how the contract for operating the deck is being awarded. The land in fact was not donated leaving the city’s deck to sit on land owned by a private entity headed by the same individual who heads the entity in line for a no-bid operating contract of the deck. He also mentions the strange deals in obtaining other bits of land to do with the deck which seem to have cost the city more than they should, especially strange in light of the fact that the city did not obtain the majority of the land.
Lockett: There are so many unanswered questionswith the TEE center parking deck that it calls out for an investigation. I’m not suggesting that any illegal actions occurred, but I do know for a fact that lots of citizens of Augusta-Richmond County to include others from outside the county are concerned about what has gone on utilizing the taxpayers’ money. I’m concerned when we have outside attorneys doing real estate transactions and at the same time representing parties from both sides. Now how can you get a good deal out of that? It doesn’t make sense. I’m not a lawyer, but I did teach business law. There are just too many things. I’m concerned when this body is informed about the possible transfer of property and given a reason that a resolution wasn’t necessary because the Attorney General or someone had indicated that there was a new law that you didn’t have to do that, but nothing was provided to this body showing that that was indeed the case.
I’m also concerned when outside counsel representing this government was asked for a document and indicated he knew he had it but could not find it because it was in a stack of papers. And I do believe this document does not exist.
This is part of what I feel that a forensic audit should do. Sure, we have internal audits every year, but the internal audits don’t look for this sort of thing. We need to look and see, and I would hope that if this body allows this government to employ a forensic auditing firm, I would hope that nothing is found, but I have seen so many things that I feel that would not be the case.
The land bank I also questioned. We need information on the past five years. How much land has been purchased by the city and at what cost? What is the process used by the city used to transfer land to the land bank and why? When city property is transferred to the land bank, is verification of sale required?
(He goes on with more questions about the land bank and with his questions for the other issues he wants looked into. Video of the entire speech will be available here in the next day or so.)
For this to get to the full Commission meeting, three of the four members of this, the Administrative Services Committe, would have to vote yes. Bill Lockett voted yes, Alvin Mason voted yes, Matt Aitken was absent (and has not returned our call as of this writing), and Jerry Brigham voted no.
|Commissioner Jerry Brigham|
Mayor Deke Copenhaver was quoted in the Urban Pro Weekly this week on the same topic and takes the same stance as Brigham. Copenhaver: “A forensic audit implies that there’s been a crime committed and it is something that would cost a tremendous amount of money and take a tremendous amount of time. I’m not in support of that.”
City Stink then called Commissioner Lockett for his response. Lockett says that a forensic audit costs no more than an internal audit and that the D.A. or GBI would expect a forensic audit before getting involved. He also said someone going to jail is the last thing he wants; he wants a government that complies with the law.
So we seem to have differences of opinion as to whether looking for something criminal is desirable or not and how much a forensic audit would cost and whether or not it would be worth it. Calls to the the accounting firm Cherry, Bekaert & Holland for cost comparisons between internal and forensic audits have not yet been returned, but price comparisons are definitely in order and will be followed up on by City Stink.