By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Checking the numbers — that’s what’s getting ready to happen with the coffers of the city of Barbourville.
However — why is a mystery.
Mayor David Thompson and members of the city council received a letter dated July 8 from Adam H. Edelen, state auditor of public accounts, giving notice that his office will be “conducting an independent examination of selected financial policies, accounts, transactions and other activity of the city.”
The letter also states the review was requested.
“Given concerns brought to the attention of this office, the APA (auditor of public accounts) has a responsibility to perform an independent examination of the city to ensure that the public’s money is being accounted for and spent in the best interest of the taxpayers,” the letter states.
However, why the review was called for remains a mystery, even according to the mayor.
“I have no idea what they’re doing,” Thompson said.
He said there are staff members available during operating hours to answer any questions the council may have to ask.
“There are three city clerks with a combined 70-plus years of experience, but not one of the new council members has contacted any of them,” Thompson said. “Instead the new council members chose to call an audit — and that’ll cost the taxpayers.”
New council members are Darren West, Ronnie Moore and Sherman Lawson. Council members Gerald Hyde, Wilma Barnes and Gary Williams have all been re-elected to the council at least one time.
“The city departments, like the street department and the police department for example, work together to do things to the best of their abilities,” Thompson said. “And it’s all for the people of Barbourville and the people of Knox County.”
However, since the new council members came on board, morale among city staff has dwindled, according to Thompson. “It’s hard for the employees because while this is going on, there is still the day-to-day operation that has to be done,” Thompson said. “I’ve said it before, but the council needs to learn to work together so we can move forward as a city.”
He explained while this upcoming audit was “specially called,” the city goes through an audit annually.
“We do an audit every year,” Thompson said. “We’ve never had a severe deficiency yet.”
Of course, all council members learned in June that city departments had to cut their budgets for the new fiscal year. “The budget has tightened.” Thompson said.
But still, Thompson said the city clerks work for the city — including the council members. He said anytime Barnes or Williams or other council members have had questions, they’ve contacted the city office.
“There were no calls to any of the clerks concerning the budget or the numbers from any of the new council members,” Thompson said. “And they all could have asked for the numbers at any time.”
He added the lack of calls to Barbourville city clerks questioning the budget or other numbers “gives the implication” something is amiss with the city’s coffers.
“My opinion is that this is possibly political,” Thompson said. “Otherwise why not ask the city clerks when they work for us and for the town? The clerks have all the information they could want and all the answers they need.”
Stephenie Steitzer, communications director for Adam Edelen, verified the city’s finances are being reviewed.
“We are conducting an examination of the City of Barbourville,” Steitzer said. “There’s not much more I can tell…at this point.”
According to the letter from Edelen, the city should expect contact from the APA office to schedule a date to start the audit. “During our examination, the APA will perform testing to address the concerns brought to us,” Edelen’s letter states. “Once completed, we will provide findings which report the results of our examination to…Thompson and the city council.”
It is not clear what will be the cost of this audit.
“Our fee for this examination will be at our standard hourly rate for professional services plus out-of-pocket costs for travel,” states Edelen’s letter. “Once we have completed our initial procedures, we will be able to provide a total cost estimate, and will transmit that estimate.
“Our procedures and estimate assume cooperation by the city and reasonable turnaround or requested documentation, which helps with the efficiency of procedures,” continues the letter. “If circumstances cause our estimate to change, we will notify the mayor’s office of the revised estimate and substantive reasons for the change.”
The bottom line is — the cash for this bill comes from city coffers. “The city will be billed for it,” Thompson said. “And the taxpayers will pay for it.”