Friday, November 30, 2012

Mayor: Audit was worth the cost

Sun Valley leaders react to release of reports

Express Staff Writer

Franz Suhadolnik

After a summary report of the findings of a forensic audit of Sun Valley’s financial affairs during fiscal 2011 was released Tuesday by the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, city officials say that even though no criminal charges will be filed against any former or current city employees, the in-depth, voluntarily commissioned investigation was worth the money.

Mayor DeWayne Briscoe said Thursday that the price tag for the forensic audit totaled about $300,000.

“The cost of the forensic audit to the uninformed sounds excessive,” Briscoe said. “However, it was a thorough investigation of the functions of the city, including all personnel and departments.”

Briscoe said the cost of the audit will be repaid “within two years” by savings in the administration of the city based on the findings of both the audit and an internal investigation of the city conducted late last year by Boise attorney Patti Ball. Ball’s investigation was commissioned by former Mayor Wayne Willich following allegations by former Treasurer and Finance Manager Michelle Frostenson of misuse of city funds by former City Administrator Sharon Hammer, former Fire Chief Jeff Carnes and his son Nick Carnes, a former paid on-call firefighter.

Briscoe said he is “entirely relieved” that the audit has been made public, saying it will allow his administration to move forward with a more “effective and efficient” city government. He also said that the city “absolutely” got its money’s worth.

“Due to reforms we’ve instated based on the findings of the forensic audit, we’ve already saved about $60,000 in fiscal 2012 and anticipate approximately $150,000 per year in savings in the administration of the city,” he said. “We now have control over work hours, vacations and sick leave and have been able to decrease staff and hire new additional multitask people that can do multiple jobs.”

Briscoe said that if future mayors continue the reforms that he’s put in place, it will result in “hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to the city.” Briscoe said those reforms include a newly adopted citywide personnel policy, a yet-to-be adopted volunteer firefighter personnel policy and a “cultural” shift at City Hall. Briscoe said city employees now exhibit a greater respect for taxpayer money.

By press deadline Thursday, Council President Bob Youngman did not return telephone and email messages seeking comment. However, the city’s three other council members expressed approval that the forensic audit report is now public.

“I’m relieved it’s over and it’s out there,” Councilwoman Michelle Griffith said Thursday. “It needed to be made public. It’s important the public be given full access to any investigative findings.”

Griffith said she’s looking forward to putting the issues that the city has faced over the past year in the rearview mirror and proceeding with business that is “more typical” of a city. She said the city had to “move backwards” for a bit to “uncover and clarify everything” before regaining forward motion.

“You can’t really make a determination on value in terms of what was or was not found,” she said. “At the end of the day, the decision to go forward with the audit was not made because it would be financially beneficial. It was made because we didn’t know the answers and we wanted to get to the bottom of the allegations. In that sense it was worth it.”

Councilman Franz Suhadolnik said he is “very pleased” that the report was released.

“I’m vexed by the forensic audit report’s contents and find the machinations that went on in our city to be very troubling,” he said. “I urge each of our citizens to avail themselves to this audit and read it thoroughly. It’s content is really amazing.”

Councilman Nils Ribi also expressed relief.

“Now, people will understand the full impact of what went on with the management of the city for the period of time that those investigations covered,” he said, referring to both the forensic audit and Patti Ball reports. “That will explain the actions that Mayor Briscoe and the City Council had to take during 2012.

Ribi said he thinks the council “has looked out for the best interest of the taxpayers to make sure their money is no longer being misused or abused.”

Brennan Rego:

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