Keeping it public: Marco Island Audit Advisory Committee hears about Sunshine, narrows list of providers

Committee member Steve Arena, right, speaks as Finance Director Gil Polanco listens. Marco Island's Audit Advisory Committee met Tuesday morning in council chambers, working to select an outside firm for the city's annual auditLance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Committee member Steve Arena, right, speaks as Finance Director Gil Polanco listens. Marco Island's Audit Advisory Committee met Tuesday morning in council chambers, working to select an outside firm for the city's annual auditLance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

— You could think of them as heroes. The City of Marco Island is mandated by state law to conduct an annual audit of its operations, and the city’s Audit Advisory Committee is charged with shepherding the process. In a classic case of citizen volunteers toiling for the greater good, the committee sits through meeting after meeting, out of the spotlight although they were watchable on local government access television helping make sure Marco’s tax dollars are properly accounted for.

The Audit Advisory Committee’s meeting, bright and early at 8 a.m., Tuesday morning, in City Council chambers, didn’t draw any spectators, as they worked to narrow the list of accounting firms which would like the job of performing the audit from, eight submissions down to a short list of companies to bring in for face to face interviews.

First, though, the members listened to how to stay out of trouble. Even though they are unpaid volunteers, they are still subject to the provisions of Florida’s Public Records Act and the “Sunshine” Law. City Attorney Burt Saunders, himself a former County Commissioner and State Representative, presented a primer on the 1967 Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, designed to ensure that the people’s business is transacted in the open and not in backroom deals.

In essence, he told the committee members, never discuss the committee’s deliberations or affairs with each other outside of the official meetings or a public forum, even though that would be a natural topic of conversation when running into a fellow member.

“Two of you sitting in a coffee shop talking audit committee business that’s a Sunshine Law violation,” said Saunders. “It doesn’t mean you can’t have lunch,” just that certain topics are off limits.

“Anything you produce text messages, emails, even handwritten notes, can be considered a public record.” He told of a case in Orlando in which city councilors were exchanging texts during a council meeting. They deleted the messages, which, said Saunders, and erasing those messages, or destruction of public record, is potentially a felony. That scenario has a simple solution, he said; “Don’t sit in a meeting and text.”

Saunders’ remarks apply equally to all elected and appointed officials, but were presented to the audit committee in part because it has new members who have not become used to the self-scrutiny and restraint required.

Sunshine Law compliance isn’t difficult, said Saunders, “but it does make your jobs a little more cumbersome.” If they want to communicate with other members, he suggested they email their comments to the staff liaison, in this case Finance Director Guillermo Polanco, who can distribute the message to all members, with proper “paper trail” or electronic record.

Saunders advised committee members to contact him if they were not certain something was kosher.

“When in doubt, get an opinion, and then you are no longer liable it falls on me.” Advisory board members are “not quite as subject to scrutiny” as elected officials such as council members, but still subject to the same rules. It really only becomes an issue, said Saunders, “if someone wants to create a problem and on Marco Island someone always wants to create a problem.”

After Saunders’ presentation, committee chairman Bill Schroeder urged the group to move ahead with the business at hand, as “a few members have time constraints, and others have attention span issues.” The business at hand was going through the responses to the city’s Request for Proposals or RFP.

There followed a lengthy session in which of the eight firms were assigned numerical rankings by each member and by city staff in a number of categories including the firm’s experience, the individual personnel assigned to the team, and their declared “specific audit approach/audit plan.” Seeking to winnow down the list of applicants, committee members looked for anything to differentiate between firms, getting into minute details, including pointing out that one firm’s submission was dated 2012 instead of 2013, and another referred to Marco Island as a county.

In the end, three accountants, Clifton, Larson & Allen, the Mauldin & Jenkins firm, and local candidate Tuscan with an office in Fort Myers were selected for callbacks. The committee is scheduled to meet again on Monday, July 15, in council chambers to continue the process. The public is welcome.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 3

GorgonZola writes:

SUNSHINE: Is that what those two councillors and the movie projectionist practice every morning at Dunkin' Donuts? You can't tell me they're debating the calorie count or the effects of caffeine. They have openly invited the public to join them there. I'm trying to convince my wife to turn up her hearing aid but she says she won't learn anything intelligent from that group.

2themoon writes:

Bullseye!

soundman writes:

yes I have seen the discussions going on under the canopy of the gazebo--definetly not in the sunshine. perhaps they are questioning patrons on the merits of the revised Mackle Park building because we know they have to get feedback before voting -- no need for a referendum just multiple survey questions to the same group of people

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features