Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Columbia County

Constitutionals Meet: County Auditor Powell Secure for Another 40 Years? The 5 Will Decide

Posted March 13, 2015  08:59 am | 1 comment

County Audit Committee listens to Prop. Appraiser Crews: (counter clockwise) P. DeWitt Cason; Sheriff's finance chief, Kim Nikola; Asst. County Manager, Ben Scott; County Manager, Dale Williams; County Chairman, Rusty DePratter, Sheriff Mark Hunter, Tax Collector Brannon.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday morning at 10:00 am, Columbia County made history. For the first time in anyone's memory, all of the County's Constitutional Officers, along with the County 5 Chairman and the County and Assist. County Manager, met. The purpose of the meeting was to decide if Columbia County would, for the first time ever, put out a Request for Proposals for a county auditor. Richard Powell has been the County's sole auditing firm, financial advisor and until recently, budget preparation "go to guy", since what appears to be sometime in the 70's. The County has not been able to locate his original contract. Powell's contract has been extended and renewed for about 40 years; the earliest known document is dated April 19, 1990. The committee decided not to put out an RFP.

Sup. of Elections Horne, and Tax Collector Brannon.

Thirty year veteran County Manager Dale Williams kicked off the meeting. "We are at that moment in time where we have to decide what we are going to do for the future," he said.

The official name of the committee, the Audit Committee, was established by FL statute in 2005. The Constitutional Officers attending were: Ronnie Brannon, Tax Collector; P. DeWitt Cason, Clerk of the Courts; Doyle Crews, Property Appraiser; Liz Horne, Supervisor of Elections; Mark Hunter, Sheriff. County 5 Chairman, Rusty DePratter, represented The 5.

Read more about Columbia County's infamous County 5.

County Manager Williams explained to the committee, "My first knowledge of such a committee was about five years ago. The Clerk's Office received a survey regarding the audit review committee and some of its actions. We responded to the survey. The Auditor General's Office said we were not in compliance. We said, 'Yes we are...' They said, 'You're right.' That brings us to today."

County Manager Williams continued. He told the committee that they were there to have "input into the process of picking an auditor." He then turned the meeting over to Assistant County Manager, Ben Scott.

Mr. Scott explained that the statute allows the current contract with an auditor to be renewed. "That's what we did in the past. We are here to ask you, 'What is your preference?'"

The law allows the county to either seek proposals from qualified auditors or renegotiate the current contract.

Contracting with Columbia County: contracts last forever

Clerk of the Courts, P. DeWitt Cason

Clerk of the Courts Cason asked, "Has anyone outside of Powell & Jones expressed an interest in this?"

County Manager Williams responded, "I can't remember one."

Mr. Scott added, "In the time I spent in the purchasing department, I never had anyone request to put in any kind of RFP for auditing services."

Clerk Cason added, "I would just like to point out that if the committee goes out for a selection, which it doesn't matter to me one way or the other, that you go after firms that have extensive experience in governmental accounting and auditing."

Tax Collector Brannon added, "I don't think going out to bid is a bad thing."

Supervisor of Elections Horne said, "I like Mr. Powell."

Property Appraiser Crews asked, "Do you pay him by the hour?"

Mr. Scott answered, "It's a fixed fee for the audit service and for other services it's an hourly rate."

Mr. Brannon asked, "When was the last time an RFP was put out?"

Mr. Scott replied, "An RFP has never been done."

Mr. Powell's contract dates back to the seventies. It has always been re-negotiated for renewal."

The statute requiring the establishment of a selection committee composed of constitutional officers and one member of the County commission went into effect in 2005.

Property Appraiser, Doyle Crews.

Out of the Blue: No RFP – a Motion

Out of the blue and just ten minutes into the meeting, Property Appraiser Crews said, "I make a motion that we just retain Dick Powell and his company and just negotiate a new agreement on the salary or whatever."

Ms. Horne seconded the motion.

Mr. Brannon said, "I don't have a problem with Dick. Maybe this is the time that we tried to see what's available to us. I'm not opposed to doing an RFP."

Mr. Powell's latest renegotiated contract extension/letter of engagement expires this year.

Mr. Scott announced, "If this committee recommends that we do an RFP we will start the process now."

Richard Powell also acts as the County Financial Advisor.

Jared Blanton, Clerk Cason's Director of Finance in the County finance office, added, "The only thing I would say about the hourly non-audit services (Richard Powell) is that I don't know that those necessarily need to be packaged with the audit. It may be better for them to be packaged separately."

Go along to get along

Without further ado or comment, the committee unanimously voted to retain Dick Powell's accounting firm and renegotiate its contract.

It was agreed that when the contract was "put together" the committee would review it.

Sheriff Hunter thought the contract should go a minimum of three years.

Currently, the Sheriff's Office spends about $12 mil a year and is the largest portion of the County budget, at about 40%.

Sheriff Hunter opines

Sheriff Hunter listens to Ben Scott

Sheriff Hunter gave his take: "We done things a certain way for a long time and before we dump everything out there with a new firm comin' in here, by us havin' a committee, I welcome this... Now we're comin' together and lookin' at what we're doin'."

Clerk Cason added, "You've got to establish a set of performance standards."

Sheriff Hunter added, "There's an industry standard out there."

It wasn't clear if the Sheriff knew where it was.

One more thing

Recently, there have been rumblings in the county that while it appears Columbia County is Powell's largest client, the audit generally arrives near or at the statutory deadline of June 30.

Mr. Scott, who will shortly take over the reins of the County, told the committee he wanted the yearly audit prepared and delivered to the County before the deadline of June 30 and that he wanted the contract to reflect that the  audit be received by the County by March 31.

No one objected.

Chairman De Pratter and the County 5 will have the final say.

Epilogue: After the meeting

Clerk of the Courts DeWitt Cason told your reporter, "In the system of checks and balances the Clerk's Office is the checks -- we sign the checks.  The committee left it open ended; after we review the contract we can still ask that the County put out an RFP for auditing services."

"In retrospect, we probably should have gone ahead with the RFP because it has been so long."

County Manager Dale Williams also weighed in, "There'll be no contract – no formal contract or what have you. It's just a concept to renegotiate."

"Assuming the board approves the committee recommendation – they can thank the committee and do something different if that's what they want. But assuming the board takes the committee's recommendation as their own, Ben will negotiate a contract and bring it back to the committee. The committee will make its recommendations and then Ben will again bring it back to the board."

Your reporter asked, "But the Board can just go out for an RFP?"

County Manager Williams, "Absolutely, they can."

The Observer asked, "Just one more thing. What do you think about Powell being the auditor for about 40 years?"

County Manager Williams answered, "The firm has been the same. The auditors are different. They change every other year or so. That's not true for the services other than the audit."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

Posted Mar. 16, 2015, Scott T wrote:

Wow when you say good old boy club you really mean it. I tell you I wish I was part of that group. Imagine not having to worry about my job because I know it will be renewed again and again and again even if in doing so there is a violation of the law. I could be wrong, but isn't it required that they do solicit bids. I mean Florida Statute 287.057 states they have to for goods or contractual services. It also states monetary threshold is $35, 000.00 which I am sure it exceeded.  I know this because I bid municipal work as a General Contractor. Now maybe I am wrong, if not someone please help me become part of this group so I too can get work without having to bid or work for it.


This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.


Related Article:
March 19, 2015
External Auditor Richard Powell - The 40 Year Man On The 5's Docket Tonight: Time For a New Face?
Chairman Williams (2014):  Beside God, that’s the next man I believe in.