JONESBORO Clayton County commissioners continued to fight this week over a forensic audit of county spending.
What reignited the debate Tuesday was a Central Services Department request to pay $105,000 to the White Elm Group, that was hired last month to perform the audit. County Attorney Jack Hancock said while the commission has hired the accounting firm to conduct the audit, White Elm was not yet authorized to begin the review.
“This board has not given them permission to proceed,” Hancock said.
The audit was a campaign promise of Chairman Jeff Turner and Commissioner Shana Rooks, but the issue has split the commission since new commissioners came into office in January. Now, it is mired in a confusing web that included the firing of White Elm Tuesday, and the hiring of a law firm who Commissioner Gail Hambrick said would have permission to rehire the same accounting firm.
But, Hambrick and fellow Commissioner Sonna Singleton questioned the entire scenario, beginning with the payment to White Elm. Despite their protests, the payout passed by a 3-2 vote.
“We never gave White Elm Group permission to proceed with the audit so why are we paying them $105,000?” Hambrick said. There was no clear answer given during the meeting about for exactly what the firm was being paid.
The vote to fire the accounting firm and hire the law firm of Arnal Golden Gregory LLP also passed by a 3-2 vote after Singleton called it “the fox guarding the hen house.”
But, the argument over the audit was only the beginning of the infighting between the two existing factions on the commission.
The arguments resumed when the board considered a resolution to hire Piper Jeffray and Company to provide the county with a financial planner until a chief financial officer is hired.
One of Piper Jeffray’s senior bankers is Ed Wall, who was fired as the county’s investment banker four years ago. At the time, Clayton News Daily reported the commission was caught in a tug-of-war of sorts over whether Wall or county Finance Director Angela Jackson should be relied on for financial advice.
Wall was the county’s investment banker for 20 years before he was fired by a 3-2 vote in January 2009. He faced a similar result this week — this time in his favor — when he was hired to work for the county again. Singleton and Hambrick voted against the measure.
They also voted to fire him four years ago.
This time around, the issue at hand was whether the financial planning contract should have been bid out. No bids were solicited for the job.
“We spent two and a half years doing a disparity study so we could open opportunities to women and minority-owned business as well as local businesses,” Hambrick said. “If we don’t follow the recommendations of that study, nobody would have a chance to do business with the county. We need to open this up.”
Rooks countered by asking Hancock if the county has ever bid out professional services such as financial planning advice.
“Historically, you have not bid out professional services,” the attorney replied.
“Well, if we do it for one, then we need to do it for all of them,” Rooks said.
Hambrick did not indicate whether she would be in favor of bidding out all professional services done on the county’s behalf.