Tempers flare in Baker over audit

Tempers flared again Monday at a City Council meeting called to get the date straight on a certified public accounting firm’s auditing contract.

The meeting renewed public criticism of four council members for selecting the firm of Postlethwaite & Netterville to do the audit, rather than Mary Sue Stages, who had done the work for years.

Police Chief Mike Knaps summoned a police officer to the meeting as the criticism grew heated. After one exchange between businessman Jack Milton and council President Joyce Burges, the meeting ended and Knaps had the officer escort Burges to her car.

Burges and Councilman Robert Young called the special meeting after confusion arose during the council’s regular June 25 meeting over the period Postlethwaite & Netterville’s audit would cover.

The June 25 agenda had it as 2013-14, the fiscal year that started Monday. The motion approved on a 4-1 vote Monday authorizes Mayor Harold Rideau, who was not at the meeting, to sign a contract for an audit of the fiscal year that ended Sunday.

Councilman Pete Heine questioned the urgency of having Monday’s meeting, saying the auditor’s selection was finished business and the date for the contract had been tabled “until the next meeting.”

“A fifth-grader would know what that means. To me, this is just like having a secret meeting,” Heine said, adding that he had planned to be out of town Monday afternoon with his family.

Heine supported Stages, a Baker resident, in earlier votes, while Burges, Young, John Givens and Charles Vincent voted for Postlethwaite & Netterville.

Heine said the council had 60 days from the end of the fiscal year to submit the contract to the state legislative auditor.

“We have 59 more days,” Heine said.

Resident John Abel questioned the difference in cost between the two firms. Stages offered to do the audit for a fee of up to $39,000, while Postlethwaite & Netterville’s proposal calls for a fee of up to $50,000.

Abel said the contract allows Postlethwaite & Netterville to charge more under certain conditions.

“Why the switch?” Elaine Noble asked.

“Change is good,” Burges said. “We need fresh eyes on the Finance Department.”