It may pay to be a friend of this County Commission, but if you are a taxpayer, it could become very expensive. Clay County taxpayers are being used to pay back the Commissioners friends and campaign contributors.

On March 12, 2013 the County Commission entered into a contract with CPA firm Meara Welch Browne to audit the County’s financial statements. Of all the firms that submitted proposals, Meara Welch Browne was the only one that had NO (zero) technical experience with governmental financial statement audits. Their submitted proposal wasn’t the low bid either. At $95,000 for the first year, it was actually the second highest bid that the County received.

Cochran Head Vick & Company submitted the low bid at $59,750. Not only were they the low bid, they have tons of experience with governmental financial statement audits. Even more importantly, they have experience with Clay County. They audited the County’s financial statements for many of the last twelve years. As a matter of fact, they were the county’s CPA firm and provided key evidence when Vic Hurlbert resigned from the county Auditor position after being investigated by a special prosecutor.

The county received 5 proposals in response to its request for proposals for outside financial auditing services after it extended the deadline to submit proposals 5 different times. The last day to accept proposals finally ended on January 31, 2013, the same day that Meara Welch Browne submitted their proposal.

During one of the audit meetings with the outside auditor, I apologized to the Audit Manager for the Commission not awarding the contract until mid-March, causing the CPA firm to get such a late start on our audit. Her response was that it was okay because the Commission had to keep extending the bid because she hadn’t gotten the proposal in and Meara Welch Browne was going to get the job. I was stunned.

So why did Meara Welch Browne get the contract at a cost of $35,250 annually more than the lowest and best bid received? It may be because Julie Welch, one of the firm’s partners is very good friends with Commissioner Mason’s husband, Vic Hurlbert. They went to college together. It may be because Welch contributed $250 to Vic Hurlbert’s unsuccessful campaign for State Representative on 3/1/2012. It may be because Welch contributed $300 to Gene Owen’s 2008 campaign for Commission on 6/2/2008. It could even be because Welch contributed $50 to Pam Mason’s unsuccessful campaign for KCMO city council in 2007 and then on 1/20/2011 to Mason’s campaign for Commissioner. I don’t know the reason, but I do know it is costing the citizens of Clay County more than $35,000 each year of unnecessary expenditures to pay Mason’s friend. You can see the report that Channel 41 did here http://www.kshb.com/news/region-missouri/clay-county/clay-county-auditor-claims-accounting-firm-changed-county-financial-statements

Mason skirted around the state ethics laws by abstaining from the actual vote. Only Owen and Ridgeway officially voted on this contract. There was very little public discussion before this contract was awarded. If my memory serves me correctly, the only discussion involved a comment by Commissioner Mason saying that this firm was being picked for its experience with forensic accounting and Commissioner Ridgeway commenting on the fact that the firm had moved its office to the state of Kansas to avoid income taxes.

If you are interested in looking at the contract and the list of CPA firms that submitted bids, you can see it here http://webdocs.claycogov.com/resord/docserv.php?id=2013-84.

The campaign contributions can be seen, as reported by the campaign committees, at the Missouri Ethics Commission website here http://www.mec.mo.gov/EthicsWeb/CampaignFinance/CF12_ContrExpend.aspx

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s