After a long meeting in which Quincy commissioners heard auditor Ronald Thompkins of the BCA Watson Rice LLP CPA firm say he needed yet more documents to be able to complete the city’s annual audit, newest commissioner Micah Brown abruptly made a motion to terminate both city attorney Larry White and city manager Jack McLean. Brown said he had heard a lot of disturbing things in his first few weeks on the board.
Seconded by Derrick Elias, the motion died on a 2-3 vote. Elias then split the previous motion and moved to remove the attorney, which was seconded by Brown and passed in a 3-2 vote with Andy Gay agreeing with his two fellow commissioners. Commissioner Elias then made a motion to also terminate McLean, which died in a 3-2 split, Gay siding with Larry Edwards and Mayor Keith Dowdell to retain the city manager.
White responded to his removal: “I didn’t apply for this job, I was asked to serve as interim for 90 days. The city interviewed several attorneys and then asked me to continue, later voting to retain me as the permanent attorney.”
White explained his $1,000-per meeting retainer fee, saying each meeting took four to six hours’ preparation time. “Attorneys bill for their time. If you’re going to sit here and insinuate that I’m doing something wrong or unethical, then I need to know what that is and the public deserves to know. You haven’t even spoken to me,” White said about Brown’s desire to fire him.
Mayor Keith Dowdell told the board that the city would not find an attorney for less money than they have been paying White. “You’re going to pay the next guy even more. Without an attorney, we can’t approve the audit,” he said.
During the audit update, Thompkins was asked what the timeline was for finishing the audit that began two months ago.
“I’m frustrated. I’ve never seen an audit take this long. You’ve been doing these audits for years,” said Dowdell.
“This audit (Quincy’s) takes more time than any other client’s,” Thompkins said. “This audit should have been done in three weeks.” Thompkins added that he now hoped to be finished by mid-August.
Commissioner Elias asked him what it was about the Quincy audit that made it so complicated.
“Most municipalities and companies plan for the audit all year long and are ready when the auditors come in. We’ve been waiting to get the documents and we’ve had to go way longer than we ever thought it would go. A concerted effort has to come at the beginning of the fiscal year,” said Thompkins.
Elias responded: “Our books are in a mess all year long and then you come along and we have to get our books in order to get into the audit.”
City manager Jack McLean said he’d only received the information from the auditor’s office 40 minutes before the Tuesday evening meeting, and that three planned meetings with the firm were set up and didn’t take place.
“I expect when these books are done this year, they will be better and fairer and clearer, and will give a better depiction of our city government. There are some things that will have to be done differently, and I’ve told (finance director) Theresa Moore that. Your organization (speaking to Thompkins) has to take some responsibility for waiting so long to ask for the documents,” said McLean in explanation.
Elias carried the audit discussion further later in the meeting. “We heard Mr. Thompkins say our books are in such disarray that it takes forever. I have argued that we need a new auditor. We’re paying too much money to too many people and they’re not producing. We’re going to have to see some serious changes or we’ll be filing for bankruptcy like Detroit.”
Both commissioners Larry Edwards and Andy Gay said they, too, were disturbed and disappointed in the audit delay. Edwards, though, responded to Elias’ comments: “We have unrestricted reserves. I am very tired of hearing about us being broke. We are not broke!”
When Elias tried to argue the point again, Edwards said the city is not broke. “We’re in a financial bind like most cities in America right now, but we are not broke!”