City of Fort Smith searching to hire an internal auditor

story by Ryan Saylor

As the argument over whether the city or Fort Smith should hire an outside auditor to review legal billings following claims of invoices submitted for work never completed continues, the city of Fort Smith has confirmed the city's own internal auditor left the position effective May 16.

According to City of Fort Smith Human Resources Director Richard Jones, Mitzi Kimbrough's last "official day" of employment was May 16, though he said she had been on medical leave since January before ultimately deciding to leave her employment with the city.

But even with the position having been empty since January and knowing that Kimbrough's return was not certain, the city did not prepare for any sort of transition, Jones said.

"We were just trying to organize," he said. "We didn't want to put the horse before the carriage just in case at the last minute she was able to return."

It took more than a month before the position was officially advertised as open on June 22, with Jones saying the job description has been slightly revised, though he could not say what aspects of the position have changed when asked for specifics.

"We actually knew she was leaving, but prior to her leaving, we solicited input from the city's audit committee, revised the position description and we actually just advertised for that position starting on June 22. … In all honesty, (I'm) not really (sure what the changes were). I have a copy of the position description that we used to create the position posting. So I have the current posting, but to go back and compare it from the time we filled it with Mitzi, I'm going to have to go back and (see) if that document even exists."

Jones did provide a draft and a final version of the job posting that went live on June 22.

Selected responsibilities for the position include the following:
• Assist as appropriate in the investigation of suspected fraudulent activities within the organization and notify management and the audit committee of the results;
• Consider the scope of work of the external auditors and regulators, as appropriate, for the purpose of providing optimal audit coverage to the organization at a reasonable overall cost; and
• As appropriate, provide consulting and advisory services to management that add value and improve an organization's governance, risk management, and control processes without the internal auditor assuming management responsibility.

As for what the city has done in the nearly seven months the position has not had a staffer in place on a regular basis, Jones said initially that he did not believe anyone was doing the work assigned to the internal auditor.

In a followup email, he explained that an outside company has assisted the finance department during the absence created this year.

"It is my understanding from talking with our finance department today that Gradient Solutions Corporation has been assisting the City with the internal audit function in the absence of an Internal Auditor. Christy (Deuster) from finance sent this, 'Here is what we paid Gradient for 2013 and to date 2014. To the best of my knowledge, we have not been charged any additional fees in conjunction with the Internal Audit position'."

According to billings provided by the city, the company billed the city of Fort Smith $89,640 in 2013 and so far this year has billed the city $57,563.

As for how long it will be until the city has an internal auditor on staff again, another document provided by Jones said applications would be screened beginning July 7, with semi-finalists set to be interviewed "if necessary" between July 18 and 31. Finalists for the position will be selected by Aug. 8 with interviews scheduled to take place between Aug. 18 and Aug. 29. The top applicant will be selected Aug. 29 with an offer for employment made Sept. 12. The tentative schedule provided to The City Wire states that the new internal auditor will begin his or her duties Oct. 6.

As for how much the city will pay annually for the position, Jones said it would be in the range of $54,787 to $70,470. He confirmed that Kimbrough's final annual salary was $75,729.

All of the information released about the internal auditor position comes on the same day that City Administrator Ray Gosack notified the Board of Directors that a question has been raised as to how many times a director can place an item on the agenda after having it removed, as has now happened to City Director Philip Merry twice since he has attempted to get an outside audit of legal billings from the Daily and Woods Law Firm and establish a committee to review whether the city should continue contracting with an outside firm or hire a staff attorney to serve as in house counsel for the city.

Merry made the request after attorney Matt Campbell made allegations against Daily and Woods of billing the city for calls that never occurred and over-billing for other work completed as part of a lawsuit Campbell had filed against the city. Campbell represents a group in litigation against the city as part of a whistleblower lawsuit.

Merry's most recent attempt to have the item receive an up or down vote at Tuesday's (July 1) Board meeting was struck down Thursday (June 26) after City Directors George Catsavis, Keith Lau, Mike Lorenz and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle requested the item be removed from the agenda.

Gosack said he did not know how many times the item could be removed from an agenda, "but thought that Robert’s Rules of Order might address this topic. Attached is a letter from the city attorney which identifies provisions in Robert’s Rules of Order which may be applicable. However, the city attorney didn’t provide an opinion on the current situation since the subject matter involves his law firm.
"If the board would like an opinion on this topic of re-introducing items previously removed from an agenda, we will need to seek the services of another attorney to provide the opinion."

In his letter, City Attorney Jerry Canfield said the 10th Edition of "Robert's Rules of Order" states that an item can be renewed, though there is an exception to the rule.

"At Page 329, § 38, of that edition, it states that 'a main motion that was introduced but not adopted during one session can…be renewed at any later session unless it has become absurd.'"

The letter from Canfield also quotes from the parliamentary book, which states that a "motion is dilatory if it seeks to obstruct or thwart the will of the assembly as clearly indicated by the existing parliamentary situation.

"… Any main or other motion that is absurd in substance is dilatory and cannot be introduced. It would also be ridiculous if a minority or two or three members could constantly raise points of order and appeal from the chair's decisions on them, or repeatedly move to lay motions on the table, or offer frivolous amendments. If a member could demand a division on every vote even when the result was clear, or move to adjourn again and again when nothing had happened to justify renewal of such a motion, business could be brought to a standstill."

Merry's resolutions seeking an independent audit and establishment of the committee have never seen a public vote within a meeting and he has not indicated whether he will continue pursuing a vote following his latest defeat.

The next meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors is Tuesday, July 1, at 6 p.m. at the Fort Smith School Services Center, 3205 Jenny Lind Road.