Audit ‘witch hunt’ is over, what’s next for city?

Published 11:24 am Monday, May 1, 2017

Ask anyone on city council back in February of 2015, why the forensic audit was pushed through by petition and they will tell you: it was a witch-hunt enshrouded by the name “forensic audit.”
Focusing primarily on specific individuals, former mayor of Port Arthur Deloris Prince, current mayor and former city councilman Derrick Freeman, city attorney Valencia Tizeno and a handful of others.
The current and former city council members who were behind the forensic audit push, continually battled publically with those listed above. These battles ultimately led to the filing for the petition and misinforming hundreds of citizens to gain signatures and push through their agenda.
Readers will recall back in April of 2015, I asked that individuals who signed the petition to contact me after having a discussion with an individual who signed the petition, but really did not understand what he was signing.
Looking back at my notes from that time, I visited with more than 50 different individuals that claimed to have signed the petition. In all but one conversation, these individuals did not know how much the audit could eventually cost, nor why it was actually being done. They were all told “Find out how our city is using our money.” Which is quite a stretch from the truth.
A forensic audit is an examination and evaluation of a firm’s or individual’s financial information for use as evidence in court. A forensic audit can be conducted in order to prosecute a party for fraud, embezzlement or other financial claims.
Which means, there was no other reason for the forensic audit other than to seek criminal charges against someone. In reality, if all they really wanted was a deeper look into finances, a different course of action could have been taken and saved the city a boatload of money. This was not the case, because this was not their intent.
At the Tuesday, April 25 city council meeting, the full service accounting firm BKD LLP, hired by the city to conduct the forensic audit shared their findings.
According to BKD representatives, Todd Burchett and Anthony DeBenedictis, they exhausted all leads throughout the audit and could find nothing that would allow them to recommend direct legal action on any current or former employee, city council member or management at the city level. The audit did state that there were policies and procedures that were not being followed. But these were not criminal.
Over the past two years, the City of Port Arthur paid $220,000 to BKD for the audit. In my opinion, if you are going to force a government entity to pay this kind of money, using tax payers money, to audit themselves you better know for certain there was going to be more than poor policies and procedures found.
During the city council meeting, councilmen Willie “Bae” Lewis and Raymond Scott, who were both supporters of the forensic audit and wasting citizens’ money, questioned the fact of other legal cases currently underway by the city and they asked does the audit negate those cases and findings? Of course they do not, however BKD offered that they did not conduct investigations in areas or cases that were currently being investigated by other entities.
Some may state that the illegal actions found over the past couple years prove corruption, even if the forensic audit does not. What needs to be understood is, out of the 600 plus employees at the city, only 20 or so were terminated for one reason or another. Those were all managerial issues or lack thereof, not corruption. With proper management and oversight in place, as we have now, the city has seen corrections in those areas. Corrections that had they been done previously, could have kept the city from spending unneeded funds.
Whether you agree if the money was wasted or not, it is my hope that we can begin to bridge the gap between the city and its citizens. And begin to grow trust between the two.
Back in February of 2015 when the discussion over the forensic audit first started, I wrote a column titled “After Forensic Audit, Then What”? In short, It stated that no matter what the audit finds, if we can’t find come together as a community and find people who can work together on council to move our community forward, the audit isn’t worth the paper it was printed on, whether it finds anything or not.
Now is the time for our city leaders to work for its citizens and not their own personal agendas. Citizens should expect nothing less, especially from those who aggressively pushed through the forensic audit.
We need leaders who can move beyond their petty difference and focus on the citizens and the community. The opportunities for our area are endless. We have all we need to see our dreams of a better Port Arthur come to fruition, except for council members that can work together. Unfortunately we continue to elect the same individuals to council that created this mess. When going to the polls this week, you might want to keep that in mind.
Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.

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