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Hartselle declines to audit school finances

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — A council majority here is saying no, thanks, to the school system's offer to allow the council to audit school financial records.

"I don't know where they are coming from," Councilman Bill Smelser said.

During a joint meeting to discuss construction of a new high school, board Chairman Andy Dukes offered to provide city leaders with the school system's last five audits.

His offer came almost three weeks after Smelser questioned a member of the firm that audits the school system about the differences between his audit and a state audit.

"We have nothing to hide," the board chairman told the council.

"Our records are open. We will bring our last five audits and budgets and let you review them at your expense."

The school board's position is this: Anytime a governmental entity questions the audit of another, it sends up a red flag that something may be wrong.

"Take our audits for 25 years, look at them and let's get this behind us," school board member Jeff Gray said.

Council President Kenny Thompson, a former school administrator, and Councilman Mark Mizell said no, thanks.

"I don't think we have ever said there is anything inappropriate going on," Thompson said.

But, Thompson does agree with Smelser that the school system should let a different firm audit the school system.

Same people since 1970s

Since becoming a city school system in the mid-1970s, the board has used the same auditing firm of Wear, Howell, Strickland, Quinn and Law.

This goes against what the state director of school finance and Alabama Association of School Boards recommended to Hartselle during a summer conference almost five years ago.

"They told us we shouldn't use the same auditing firm on a consistent basis," former board member Ronnie Abercrombie said.

To hopefully remedy the situation, Dr. Dukes said the school system is going to take bids for its auditing services.

Because an audit is a professional service, Hartselle does not have to bid it.

City leaders said they wouldn't be surprised if the same firm wins the bid and there is no change of auditors.

As for Dr. Dukes' offer to provide previous audits, city leaders said they already have them.

Because the school system is a component unit of the city, the board has to provide City Hall with a copy of its completed audit.

Certain figures, like the school bonds, become part of the city's audit because the council makes the bond payments.

Time taken

At the same meeting when Smelser questioned the school board, Mayor Dwight Tankersley complained about Wear, Howell, Strickland, Quinn and Law taking so long to do the audit.

Because some of the school system's audit numbers have to be part of the city audit, the mayor said, the city can't complete its audit until the school system's audit is finished.

Tucker, Scott and Wates finished the city's portion of the audit in April, but the firm has not completed the audit because auditors are waiting on the school system's final audit, city leaders said.

Even though the city said it is pleased with its auditors, the mayor said he will ask the council to change its auditing firm next year because the firm has performed the city's audit five consecutive years.

The city plans to accept proposals, but unlike the school system, the council is not going to accept one from Tucker, Scott and Wates because Hartselle wants to change firms.

"We need a different set of eyes looking at our books," Tankersley said last month.

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