Tempers flare as Groves says no to forensic audit, plan for new city manager ongoing

Published 12:34 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

GROVES — Tempers flared and voices rose during this week as the Groves City Council pondered whether or not to hire a forensic accountant.

Mayor Chris Borne sees no need for a forensic accountant to be hired unless someone is trying to sling mud.

The main discourse was between Chris Borne and councilmembers Paul Oliver and Rhonda Dugas.

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Dugas and Oliver voted to authorize the city attorney to hire a forensic accountant and any other third party that is “reasonably necessary to determine if the city’s finances have been handled appropriately.”

Borne, along with councilmen Mark McAdams and Rob Vensel, voted against the motion, which failed.

The forensic audit issue comes in the midst of the city’s effort work to hire a new city manager.

Previous city manager D.E. Sosa submitted a separation agreement to the city in December, leaving after two decades as city manager. His final day was Jan. 3.

Oliver feels a forensic audit would show council where the city is financially and give the next city manager a clean slate.

Dugas said Groves residents want a forensic audit.

The city is being audited, as it is annually, according to Lamar Ozley, the city’s finance director, who told the council this week’s meeting that they had a questionnaire in front of them regarding the audit.

The current audit would be separate from a forensic audit, according to officials; the anticipated cost of a forensic audit begins at approximately $65,000. The price would increase from there if more detail were requested.

“Well, I mean how much is peace of mind? How much do you pay for that? How much does our city pay for peace of mind saying we’ve had a forensic audit,” Dugas said. “That they found or didn’t find anything. We are a clean city. Our finances are clean. And we start from there and go forward.”

Borne asked if the current audit could include additional areas of the city’s finances, to which Ozley said “yes.”

Dugas is in favor of an independent auditor “not leaning one way or the other” and “just doing the facts.”

Sidney Badon, who served as a councilman for 15 years, chastised councilmembers for wanting to throw away taxpayer money on an audit when they couldn’t spend the funds on the city’s water treatment plant. But Borne reminded Badon no decision had been made at that time.

Oliver said the motion for the forensic audit isn’t to find someone to hang but to find out where the finances are. He questioned the city’s budget and if there is debt carried over to the next fiscal year budget.

Issues such as bonds are scheduled payments, Ozley explained, but there are invoices that come in after the fact and those are approved for adjusting to the previous year as the old year is closed out.

These are also issues brought to council annually.

The annual audits show if there are any missing funds and, as Borne noted, no missing monies have been identified. The audits have been clean the last five years, he said.

“Every penny on every dollar that came in was spent on the city, so I see no need to spend $65,000 to tell us that we’ve already done the right thing. I am not in favor of this,” Borne said. “I don’t believe it is any benefit to us whatsoever, except possibly try to sling mud at somebody in the past.”

The discussion came to a head as Borne and Dugas exchanged words.

“We’re not trying to sling mud,” Dugas said.

“I can have my opinion, Ms. Dugas. Yes,” Borne said.

“Yes you can and you don’t have to yell. What is wrong with you? Dear Lord,” Dugas said.

Borne answered by saying he is tired of getting cut off by Dugas, who retorted she was not cutting him off and not slinging mud.

The city’s budgets are posted online dating back to 2009.