Burlington’s mayor found himself out on a very deserted limb this week when he tried to persuade the rest of the city council to drop the locally-based auditing firm that has reviewed the city’s finances since time immemorial.
Mayor Ian Baltutis embarked on this lonely crusade during the council’s latest regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, which featured, among other items, a proposal to renew the city’s auditing contract with the firm of Stout, Stuart, McGowen & King.
The contract’s renewal had originally appeared on the meeting’s so-called “consent agenda,” a collection of presumably routine proposals that the council usually passes en bloc. In this case, Baltutis urged the council to pull the contract’s renewal out of this list to give it some added attention once the rest of the consent agenda had been rubberstamped.
“One of the things that [state auditor beth wood] indicated, is that it’s absolutely critical that municipalities regularly rotate who audits their finances . . . Having cold eyes to look at your finances periodically is absolutely fundamental to keeping people out of the rhythms that allow for financial mismanagement.” – mayor ian baltutis
Baltutis went on to encourage the council to end its exclusive relationship with Stout, Stuart, McGowen & King in order to give other auditing firms an opportunity to examine the municipality’s finances. He added that North Carolina’s state auditor Beth Wood has personally endorsed this kind of a rotation as “an industry best practice,” which he insisted the city would be well advised to adopt.
“One of the things that she indicated,” he said, “is that it’s absolutely critical that municipalities regularly rotate who audits their finances…Having cold eyes to look at your finances periodically is absolutely fundamental to keeping people out of the rhythms that allow for financial mismanagement.”
The mayor went on to propose that the council bid out its auditing contract to let other firms take a crack at the municipality books. This recommendation nevertheless failed to impress with the council’s other four members, who saw no reason to sever their long-standing ties with Stout, Stuart, McGowen & King.
“there’s probably a lot of industry ‘best practices’ that we don’t follow as a city. What I do like about having Stout, Stewart, McGowen & King is their familiarity with how we operate . . . Most important, I have always felt comfortable calling them and challenging things. . . I have zero concerns about this firm.” – councilman jim butler
“There’s probably a lot of industry best practices that we don’t follow as a city,” councilman Jim Butler conceded. “What I do like about having Stout, Stewart, McGowen & King is their familiarity with how we operate…Most important, I have always felt comfortable calling them and challenging things…I have zero concerns about this firm.”
Councilman Harold Owen acknowledged that the state auditor may have a point when it comes to municipalities which lack their own, professional financial staffs. He added, however, that the same wisdom doesn’t seem quite as applicable to Burlington, which has a finance department that he insisted is just as diligent as Stout, Stuart, McGowen & King.
“I have full confidence in the firm that we’re with right now . . . and I am in favor of doing business, if we can, with our local business people.” – councilman harold owen
“I think we’ve got a really good firm,” he added. “I have full confidence in the firm that we’re with right now…and I am in favor of doing business, if we can, with our local businesspeople.”
“That’s my opinion too, Ian,” chimed in mayor pro tem Kathy Hykes. “I’ll stick with the hometown people as much as possible.”
The mayor’s proposal also fell flat with councilman Bob Ward, who backed the city’s Burlington-based auditors after Baltutis failed to cite any specific concerns with the services of Stout, Stuart, McGowen & King.
In the final accounting, Baltutis had little choice but to go along with the will of the majority.
“It continues to raise a red flag anytime I hear ‘comfort’ and ‘long-term relationship,’” he nevertheless said before the council voted to renew the auditing firm’s contract. “It would be prudent in the future for the city to consider that thoroughly.”
Other March 4 edition Burlington news coverage from The Alamance News/alamancenews.com:
Rec director recommends against adding disc golf to city’s municipal golf course: https://alamancenews.com/possibility-of-disc-golf-course-being-added-at-citys-traditional-golf-course-rec-director-recommends-against/
City officials outline increased costs from allowing chickens in city backyards: https://alamancenews.com/how-much-new-city-staff-and-money-will-be-needed-to-inspect-chicken-houses/
City council endorses plan to chip in $10,000 as part of $3.9 million renovation of Lakeside Mill: https://alamancenews.com/city-agrees-to-help-subsidize-co-s-plans-for-lakeside-mill-renovation/
Grant for new firefighters will ultimately cost city taxpayers – but not for three years, so council gives go-ahead for city to pursue grant: https://alamancenews.com/city-seeks-federal-funds-to-hire-more-firefighters/
And from Feb. 26 online story: Burlington police seek public’s help in finding nine suspects: https://alamancenews.com/wanted-burlington-police-dept-seeks-publics-help-in-locating-9-suspects/