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Town Council meets with auditor behind closed doors

School representatives waited outside, wondering what it was all about

At a special meeting of the Colonial Beach Town Council October 21st at 7 pm, members met with Auditor Nancy Miller to discuss legal issues in closed session pursuant to VA. Code §2.2-3711 (A) (7) for consultation with legal counsel regarding specific legal matters-federal and state laws pertaining to fiscal management.
All Council Members where present except Burkett Lyburn who arrived just after the closed session began. Only two members of the public where present, Planning Commission Member, Ed Grant and School Board Member, Mike Looney.
Members of the press are trained to take notice when a special meeting is called and curiosity is really raised when meetings start with a closed session. To add to the mystery, Members of Council all seemed to be in the dark over what legal issues would be discussed.

To everyone’s surprise and delight Councilman Ronald “Sparky” Ridgely asked to table the closed meeting for a few minutes to allow Auditor, Nancy Miller of the Miller/Foley group to give the Council a brief update about the audit.
Everyone was anxious to get a sneak peak at what would obviously become a long night but no one was prepared for what came next.
Miller reported, “We have been out working on the Audit over the last month or so and some issues have come up to give Council sort of a mid-audit status of what's going on. I'm just going to go over briefly some issues that are going on.”
Miller explained that audit activity on the Town side was progressing well, “We're more or less finished with the town field work with the exception of any work related fixed assets.” Miller stated that this work should be finished soon.
The rest of Miller’s report raised many questions and some speculation. 
Miller began by saying, “We've had very significant issues with the School’s audit in terms of trying to get information and being able to move forward with that.”
The School? If there are legal matters concerning the School why weren’t the school board members present? Had they been notified? Did the school raise legal issues against the Town? Is the Town raising issues with the school?
The rest of the Millers brief left participants to continue to speculate.
Miller continued, “And in fact I’m very concerned over how it will impact our audit opinion related to the schools’ impact [with regards to] the federal grant compliance issues.”
“Furthermore” Miller said, “in performing the audit related to FY 09, Some things have come to our attention in the current fiscal year that create concerns for me about how progress is being made toward resolving a number of issues and in fact we've come to a couple of problems where we may feel there may be potential legal issues related to that.”
Miller concluded by saying, “Basically we want to come before council today and talk about some of these potential legal problems.”
Ridgely asked for clarification, “And you’re again talking about the school side?”
Millers responded, “School side, yes.”
To which Ridgely motioned to go into closed session.
Shortly after the Council went behind closed doors Board Member Mike Looney exited the meeting but Superintendant Dr. Donna Power and School Board Chairman, Tim Trivett arrived. Both said that they happened upon the meeting and stopped by to see what the buzz was all about.
After being briefed about Miller’s statements both Power and Trivett where bewildered that neither of them had been approached about this meeting and during the next two hours, while waiting for Council to emerge from the conference room, speculations continued.
Trivett stated it felt just like the Committee meeting a few months before when the Council aired their frustrations over the school’s decision not to go to the Bright Accounting System.
The Council has been in a year-long battle to persuade the School Board to switch to the Bright Accounting System. Council has argued that it would save extra work on Town Hall staff by eliminating the need to convert information and physically enter data into the Town’s “Bright” Accounting System.
Dr. Power speculated that the issue was over the management and the viability of the Federal Title One Program. Dr. Power had been previously notified that there were concerns resulting form the Town Audit on this issue.
Dr. Power said, “There were concerns that it was not run in compliance with federal mandate. I met with Gaby Frazier, the Title One Specialist at the Virginia Department of Education. Before I went I wrote a corrective action plan as to how the plan would be put in compliance based upon the recommendations of the audit.”
Power continued, “When I met with Gaby Frazier we reviewed the corrective action plan, we made changes to it together and it was approved. Based upon that approval I'm in the process of amending the Title One plan and it will be voted on by the School Board November 11 at the regular school board meeting. And the changes to bring the plan into compliance will be in effect as of the vote of the School Board meeting.”
Dr. Power said the matter was on the agenda for the Finance Committee Meeting scheduled for Next Thursday to inform the Council of the corrective actions.
When asked to describe what emotions she was feeling, Dr. Power said, “It would be a mistake to get emotional. We only want a chance to address the issues the Council and Auditor are concerned about.”
When Council Members reconvened in open session the Mayor introduced Councilman Ridgely’s statement by saying, “Since this is an open meeting we’re going to discuss very carefully the item or items we took up in executive session.”
Ridgely began his statement by saying, “In summary our closed meeting raised some serious concerns by the auditor on the School Board audit, serious enough items that could possibly affect our credit rating and bond rating in the Town.”
Ridgely continued, “We have instructed the town attorney to write an agreement to try to clear up these issues and we will present them to the School Board at a later date.”
Ridgely’s last comment leaves one to believe the issue at hand will not go smoothly with the School Board by saying, “Hopefully they will approve this document in a cooperative spirit and manner to get these issues resolved. That’s all I have Mr. Chairman.”
After the meeting in an interview, Mayor Rummage stated that he was asked to sign an order calling the meeting. “I was asked to go down to the office. I presume it came from the Town Managers office. I did not know the particulars; that’s why I did not vote to go into closed session.” Rummage had voted present.
When asked why the meeting didn’t include the members of the School Board, Rummage said, “Actually this concerns the audit not only this past year’s audit ending June 30th but the previous year. And we have run into some real problems with the audit and that’s the reason we’re trying to work this out amicably. That’s the reason why we have asked the attorney to draw up a contract and we’re going to continue the meeting on Monday.”
Rummage confirmed that the subject of Wednesday’s meeting has nothing to do with the investigation that the State Police are carrying on against the School Board. Rummage said it is strictly audit.
Before the meeting recessed Councilman Coombes commented: “Just for clarification - we heard the auditor indicate to us that in her opinion there were serious problems with the school board’s method of ‘financial record keeping’. To the extent that it is a very serious matter with respect to Federal money, State money etc.”
It would appear that School Board Chairman Trivett’s feelings of déjà vu may also be a premonition. After all the School’s ‘method of record keeping’ could be defined as their accounting system.
While the decision to exclude the School Board from last week’s meeting may not have been the “brightest” idea, it is a fact that the school’s present accounting system is not the “Bright” way of accounting in the eyes of the Council.
Wednesday’s meeting has been recessed until Wednesday October 28 at 6 p.m. at which time the Council will reconvene and will publicly approve the drafted agreement so it can be presented to the School Board. 
      Linda Farneth

 

 

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