The most heated exchange at last Tuesday's Town Board meeting concerned the draft audit report. It was noted that this year's report identifies 12 control deficiencies and 11 material deficiencies, whereas the previous auditor did not note a single deficiency. Has the town all of a sudden taken a nose dive in its procedures? Probably not. I believe our previous audits for the past several years were inadequate.
What do I know about audits? I was government contracts officer for two government contracting firms and Chief Financial Officer of a private equity firm with a government guarantee by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. I have represented my firms at audits by the Defense Contract Audit Agency. Been there. Done that.
In early 2008 in open session I questioned the statement in the 2007 audit report that the auditor's review "...would not necessarily identify all deficiencies in internal control that might be significant deficiencies or material weaknesses." The report went on to say that "...providing an opinion on compliance [with laws, regulations, contracts and grant agreements] was not an objective of our audit, and accordingly we do not express an opinion." I was told by one of the returning commissioners that "this isn't that kind of audit. If we want that kind of audit, we have to pay more." Well, this time we got "that kind of audit" and it cost less.
The previous audit was a whitewash. I am told that the previous auditor sat down with the then town manager and went over some "problem areas." I don't know what they were, because the list was never put on the public record or presented to the board. It should be the prerogative of the board to determine whether shortcomings in compliance require corrective action, not the unilateral determination by the town manager.
It's a good idea to look at any audit or other evaluation with a critical eye. I hope the new board will do that. Not every deficiency is worth correcting, especially in a town this size. But there is no excuse for not making every reasonable attempt to comply with state requirements. In many cases, correcting the auditor's findings is easy to do. In other cases, I believe the auditor is either incorrect or his statement misstates the real problem.
If anyone out there would find it useful, I would be glad to post my item-by-item analysis of the audit report.
The worst mistake would be to simply dismiss the findings of the auditor. This was a good audit. I think future audits by the same firm are likely to become even better, as the auditors achieve greater familiarity with the town's strengths and weaknesses.