Fear of protest subsides, forensic audit to continue

Forensic audit committee meets Friday, secures audit firm following warning of potential bid protest

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— Despite the fear of bid protests expressed by several city officials at Monday’s Council meeting, the forensic audit committee is meeting Friday without any protests as of presstime.

Fear of another protest to a city bid process nearly led to yet another round of searching for a firm to conduct the forensic audit on Marco’s six-year, $40 million, Collier Boulevard reconstruction project.

The city first selected an auditing firm in fall 2008, but formed a citizens’ audit committee to recommend a different firm.

Chair of the audit committee, former Councilwoman Terri DiSciullo, plans to address the lengthy debate that occurred in her absence at Monday’s Council meeting.

The citizens’ committee, meeting again 8:30 a.m. Friday, interviewed three firms. The list of firms was developed by those who answered to the original Fall 2008 RFP and another firm sought by DiSciullo.

The committee unanimously recommended the Daytona-based firm James Moore at their Feb. 20 meeting. The firm estimated it would take up to 500 working hours and $79,000, including travel expenses, to complete the forensic audit, or detailed audit which will hold up in court.

The other two firms were KPMG Forensic and Crowe Horwath.

KPMG Forensic’s bid was $81,800 including travel. Crowe Horwath’s bid was $95,700 plus travel expenses.

James Moore plans to begin by looking at all transactions above $20,000 for the project that spanned 2002 through 2008 and was last estimated to cost $40 million, according to a fall 2008 report by former Finance Director Bill Harrison and Public Works Director Rony Joel. Upon the committee’s direction, the firm may look at all expense and income transactions for the not-to-exceed amount of $79,000.

James Moore originally bid $42,000 and their opportunity to rebid became the focus of Monday night’s debate.

Councilman Jerry Gibson was first to question the dramatic change.

DiSciullo had requested, on behalf of the committee, that the firm bid on an audit of every transaction. Their original bid was based on representative sampling.

Chairman Trotter said he was concerned that all bidders weren’t given equal opportunity to rebid.

“Evidently (James Moore) first misunderstood the nature of the bid,” Trotter said.

Vice Chair of the forensic audit committee, Joe Batte, didn’t see it that way.

“They provided us with some flexibility. If you get to a certain point, if everything is pointing the right way, you could back off of some of it. They were so flexible to work with us and do exactly what the RFP required,” Batte said.

Interim Finance Director Bob Creighton said he believed James Moore should have been disqualified.

“Allowing them to rebid taints the whole process. I don’t think it’s a level playing field. Originally, 27 firms received bid packages. If the process has been flawed, as I think it has been, be more specific on expectations,” Creighton said.

Alan Gabriel, the city’s attorney, said he could not approve the contract because it wasn’t complete. He said he was also concerned about the change in the "scope of services."

City officials have expressed the need to use consistent bid processes.

Councilman Ted Forcht recommended a rebid.

“I want to make sure when this audit is complete, we can say for sure what happened on Collier Boulevard,” he added. This $80,000 project is not comparable to the $12 million sewer projects recently protested, said Councilman Rob Popoff.

“Even if (James Moore) were the high bidder, they would have been recommended because of the interviews. If you go through the legalities, as far as I’m concerned, you’re going to get the same result,” Magel said adding “Professional services do not have to be bid the same way widgets have to be bid.”

Resident Bob Brown, an audit meetings attendee, said he didn’t want to see another six to eight weeks go by.

“It would be a total shame and actually a total sham to put it out again,” he said.

Councilman Chuck Kiester agreed.

“I’ve been asking for an audit of this thing for three years,” he said.

Councilman Wayne Waldack, Trotter and Forcht opposed contracting with James Moore.

Council was not initially presented all options by staff and was persuaded to turn down the recommendation, Kiester wrote Wednesday to Thompson and Gabriel.

The audit committee is the only citizens’ committee that does not have a staff liaison.

“The city staff has stayed removed from the work of the committee, but the price is that the well-intentioned committee has been uninformed about processes and issues of the city and the staff has been uninformed about process issues of the committee,” Thompson wrote in a response to Kiester.

DiSciullo said she anticipates an engagement letter, or contract, from James Moore by mid-March and for the forensic audit to begin shortly after that. The contract will spell out the procedures they will go through to perform the audit and when the audit firm invoices the city, that invoice will reflect what’s in the contract, she added.

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