After Citizen-led Effort, Brentwood City Hall Calls for State Audit
The city sent a press release on Monday that called for a state audit of its finances to "restore confidence in our city government."
This article was updated at 10:15 p.m. to include information from an interview with Gary McElyea, spokesman for the Missouri State Auditor's Office.
On Monday, Mayor Pat Kelly called for a state audit of the city's finances, two weeks after two Brentwood residents began collecting signatures on a petition for the same purpose.
Kelly made the statement in a press release sent to local news outlets. The release notes that the mayor sent a letter to Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich on Friday that requests the audit to "restore confidence in our city government." (See PDF attached to article.)
In an interview, Kelly said a state audit would help the city "regain the confidence of the citizenry." The audit would help the city establish best practices and review its accounts, he said.
But no provision exists in state law to allow for a city to request an audit, said Gary McElyea, spokesman for the state auditor's office. In addition to the regularly scheduled audits each year, the state auditor's office may only audit a public entity if requested by the governor or if citizens file a petition seeking an audit, McElyea said.
The mayor's call to action follows an effort spearheaded by two Brentwood residents who started collecting signatures for a petition two weeks ago.
(See related on Patch: State Audit Supported by 1,000 Brentwood Residents)
The two recent financial scandals surrounding former city administrator Chris Seemayer and the Brentwood Fire Department—and the perceived lack of response from elected officials during a meeting on July 18—sparked Maureen Saunders and Julie Pozzo to organize the effort.
The state auditor's office required *581 signatures before it was required by law to audit the city, McElyea said. That amounts to 15 percent of the number of votes cast in Brentwood during the last governor election.
Saunders submitted a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures on Monday.
When reached by phone, Saunders shared her frustrations about the city's announcement.
Saunders said the city was aware of her petition drive but failed to act in a timely manner. She spoke at the July 18 Brentwood Board of Aldermen meeting and submitted a letter to the editor to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 24. The Post-Dispatch and Patch have both run articles on the petition drive too.
"It's a shame that the city didn't let us know sooner so the residents didn't have to spend two weeks in the grueling heat," Saunders said. Saunders and Pozzo went door-to-door to collect signatures.
The city seeks an audit
In an interview with Patch, Kelly said a state audit would help regain the citizen's trust.
An audit from the state could cost five or six times as much as an audit from a CPA firm, Kelly said. "But costs shouldn't be a factor," he said. The state auditor's office estimates the cost to be between $50,000 and $75,000.
The city hires an indepedent firm to audit its finances every year, but has ignored recommendations to develop "better internal control procedures," like keeping receipt logs for issuance of permits or documenting the use of city-issued gasoline credit cards, as noted by the hired auditor in a 2009 report. After multiple requests, city officials haven't made the 2010 report available to Maplewood-Brentwood Patch.
Saunders said she hopes the citizen-led drive remains independent of the city's effort. She said residents aren't supportive of the city right now.
Ward 2 Alderman Mike Marshall said the city called for an audit to expediate the audit process, not to work against Saunders and Pozzo. The city's press release doesn't specifically mention the citizen-led petition drive.
But, under state law, no municipality can request an audit, McElyea said.
What's next for the petition?
The state auditor's office submitted the petition to the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners, where the signatures will be certified. At least 581 signatures must be registered Brentwood voters.
The audit would start once staff become available later this year, McElyea said. It would finish sometime in 2012.
Saunders and Pozzo plan to present a list of concerns to the state auditor's office once the signatures are verified. They've collected concerns shared by residents during the signature-gathering process.
City officials also hope to "discuss the next steps with Mr. Schweich and his office," notes the press release.
But neither side may decide what ultimately gets audited, McElyea said.
"We take into full consideration the concern of the petitioners and city residents, but the auditor's office will determine the scope of the audit," McElyea said. "We'll listen to the concerns of all parties."
He stressed the need for a high-quality audit that remains independent.
*Correction: Maplewood-Brentwood Patch previously reported an incorrect number. The petitioners only need 581 signatures. We are sorry for the mistake.