Sunday, December 8, 2013

Practitioners of good government could have restarted the process to avoid any appearance of impropriety.! Audit candidate spurs complaints Ulster lawmakers get a warning By James Nani Times Herald-Record Published: 2:00 AM - 12/07/13 KINGSTON — Ulster County legislators are set to hire a new independent auditing firm for the county, despite warnings from the Ulster County comptroller that its relationship with the Legislature may lead to appearances of impropriety. The choice this year has been narrowed down to two firms: O'Connor Davies LLC or Toski and Co. The decision will go to the full Legislature Tuesday. Toski and Co. is the county's current independent auditor and the firm is in the running to continue down that path. The contract as the county's main auditor is worth $63,500 a year. O'Connor Davies, the other choice and favored by the Republicans' slim majority, came out two weeks ago with an audit of Ulster County Executive Mike Hein's tentative 2014 budget. The Ulster County Legislature hired O'Connor Davies in September at $65,000 for this year's audit and approved it, 19-2. Aside from a few minor cash shuffles and warnings, the firm painted a fairly rosy picture of Hein's budget in its analysis. Therein lies the problem, says the county's comptroller, Elliot Auerbach, a Democrat. He's put out several warnings to the Legislature that the process to pick the auditor had been flawed. Auerbach says O'Connor Davies should have dropped out of the running for official auditor once it accepted the job to do the budget analysis to avoid a conflict of interest. He also says awarding a three-year contract is too long and would go past the term of the current Legislature. "The appearance of impropriety is there," Auerbach says. Auerbach says the Legislature should go back to the drawing board to pick from a bigger pool of bidders. Republican Ken Ronk, the Legislature's majority leader, disagrees with Auerbach's analysis. A supporter of O'Connor Davies, he says different teams from the same firm would conduct the two different audits and a three-year contract would be cheaper than a one-year agreement. Ronk says O'Connor Davies already audits Westchester, Orange and Rockland counties. He's also concerned that if the process were started over, it could delay the auditing process that usually begins in December. Ulster County Executive Mike Hein has sided with Auerbach. Hein says although no one is saying there's been wrongdoing, the comptroller is right that the current policy needs improvement. "An inherent conflict arises when any CPA firm is exposed to the potential for political pressure to shape their final budget analysis in return for being awarded a much larger and more lucrative annual audit contract," Hein said last month.

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