Council-auditor feud continues
Council members say their criticism of the auditor is not personal or political.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
STRUTHERS -- City council's meeting Wednesday was dominated by a "they said, she said" exchange among several members of council and Auditor Tina Morell.
The councilmen -- Mark A. Sandine, 2nd Ward; Daniel R. Yemma, 3rd Ward; Paul J. Garchar Jr., 4th Ward; and Jerry L. Shields, at-large -- said Morell has not provided accurate, timely financial information, leading them not to trust the accuracy of her reports.
Morell, on the other hand, said her information is correct, and she has the documents to prove it if only the councilmen would come to her office. She said only two members of council have come to her office to hear what she has to say.
One was Councilman Terry P. Stocker, at-large, who was alone in defending her at the meeting. There is a lot of scrutiny of Morell, he said, compared to the previous city auditor who left three years ago.
"It appears the auditor has not been treated with the respect she deserves. I think she is doing a good job," Stocker said.
The public criticism of Morell came after her assertion at the Jan. 10 council meeting that most council members had not come to her office to get financial information.
Wednesday's blow-up came after a veto two weeks ago by Mayor Daniel C. Mamula of part of an ordinance passed Dec. 27 making year-end fund transfers. The mayor objected to the transfer of 10,000 of the 16,000 requested from the general fund to an auto tax account to fund the street department -- saying the amount was more than what was needed.
Morell wanted the transfer to enable her to pay early 2007 obligations, to ensure that the fund ended 2006 with a surplus, and to avoid citations in the next state audit of the city's financial records for the fund's being in the red.
A motion by Stocker on Wednesday to override Mamula's veto died for lack of a second. It was after that vote that several lawmakers criticized Morell's performance.
Yemma said a year ago he discussed with council and Morell his "dissatisfaction" with her performance and "felt he could no longer trust or rely on" the information provided to council by her office.
Further, Yemma said he found "highly offensive" Morell's comment that council does not review facts. The problem is getting facts to review, he said.
This is not about personalities, it's about efficient operation and management of the city's 7 million, Yemma said.
Over the past couple of years, errors in billing, problems with paving contracts and unresolved payroll issues have led council to "second-guess the validity of the information coming from the auditor's office," Garchar said.
Garchar and Sandine took exception to Morell's comment that council was breaking the law by allowing the auto tax fund to end the year in the red, rather than it being a prudent accounting strategy to better manage the city's funds.
What mayor wants
Mamula said the goal of his administration is to wean the street department off the general fund and have it fully funded by the auto tax fund.
"I didn't want to raise the ante. My veto was a strategy, nothing else. I'm hoping we won't have to subsidize the street department at all, because we can't afford it," the mayor said.
He said his action had nothing to do with personality clashes or a political feud with Morell.
Morell said, however, she said she believes the attacks are political and personal.
Now that a recently completed state audit shows that her numbers are correct, "they want to turn it around and said it's not personal or political, it's that I'm not doing a good job."
Referring to the overpayment of five employees that led to findings for recovery in the yet-to-be-released audit, Morell said one of the findings was for an employee who left before she came into office. Checks for three of the other four were prepared by the previous auditor and she said she signed them so the employees could get paid. Also of the four, three were no longer employees.