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MARCO ISLAND — The citizens’ “Ad Hoc Forensic Audit Committee” met Friday to continue working with an auditing firm to perform the forensic audit on the Collier Boulevard reconstruction project.
The committee plans to meet again Thursday to further discuss the upcoming audit of the $40 million Collier Boulevard project, which spanned from 2002 through 2008.
In addition to the performance of the forensic audit, or audit that will hold up in court, the committee discussed continuing concerns about the operations of the finance department Friday.
Committee chairwoman Terri DiSciullo said she made verbal requests to City Manager Steve Thompson for him to reconsider his position on allowing former Finance Director Bill Harrison to perform contract work with the city, giving Harrison access to financial records in City Hall during the audit of a project he oversaw financially.
DiSciullo requested the committee write a follow-up letter to Thompson further expressing their concerns and desires regarding Harrison’s access.
Committee member Amadeo Petricca said he would assist in drafting such a letter based on the comments he already made to City Council at the March 2 Council meeting.
“(Harrison) should not be in the building. He should have been suspended with pay. It’s the appearance of impropriety,” Petricca said.
Harrison signed a contract in late January to work for $100 per hour as a financial consultant. Thompson said Harrison is at City Hall about two days per week.
Harrison had retired suddenly in October based on political pressures arising from questions about the financial practices during the Collier Boulevard project.
Although access to records was a concern, the greater concern seemed to be the “appearance” of a potential flaw in the audit based on Harrison’s access to records during the forensic audit.
“There will be trails, so I do feel confident that through the audit process, they will be able to follow the paths, despite our concerns. It’s perception again, and perception is reality,” DiSciullo said.
Resident Bill McMullan, an attendee at the meeting, said he was also concerned.
“You can really fowl things up when someone has access to computer systems,” McMullan said, adding that he was speaking from a significant amount of computer experience.
Regarding the committee’s selection of auditing firm James Moore for the auditing contract at a cost of $79,000, the Eagle incorrectly swapped the amounts estimated by the other two higher-bidding firms in earlier reports. The correct bids were KPMG Forensic as the high bidder at $95,700 plus travel expenses and Crowe Horwath as the mid-priced bidder at $81,800, including travel.
The committee plans to review James Moore’s engagement letter, or contract, Thursday. This contract is expected to provide the detailed procedures auditors plan to perform and a breakdown of the cost for each procedure.
While City Council was nearly split, 4-3, on approving a contract with James Moore, the committee said they felt they actually had the backing of most or all of the councilmen.
“By and large I think we have their full support. They had good, professional questions of the process,” said committee vice chairman Joe Batte regarding the March 2 discussion on selecting the firm.
Batte made the presentation to council recommending the city hire James Moore. A lengthy discussion ensued questioning the committee’s bid and selection process because James Moore was able to refine their bid to include review of all transactions versus their original bid consisting of representative sampling.
“(The close Council votes) gives the appearance that someone doesn’t want this or wants to stall. I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Batte said.
Bill Sneddon agreed saying he understood the council’s professional questioning on the matter.
“I think one of the people that benefits the most from this audit is Mr. Harrison. Everything we learn that is done correctly is a feather in his cap,” Sneddon said.
A potential bid protest was a fear expressed by several officials March 2. The 10-day period to file a bid protest is complete Wednesday. City Attorney Alan Gabriel said a bid protest would need to be made by then.
The forensic audit committee is scheduled to meet 5:30 p.m., Thursday, in the Marco Island Fire Rescue Department’s training room on the corner of Bald Eagle Drive and San Marco Road. The evening meeting was set to encourage public participation, DiSciullo said.