Augusta may have a different external auditor for the first time in 14 years.
On Monday, a selection committee interviewed three firms for the state-mandated task of producing a public record in standard format of the city’s financial situation, an “external audit,” as collected and reviewed by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts.
Three qualified bidders, all certified public accountant firms, presented proposals to the selection committee Monday: Augusta-based Serotta Maddocks Evans; Cherry, Bekaert & Holland, which has an Augusta office; and Atlanta firm Mauldin & Jenkins, officials said.
The committee will recommend one firm at a Wednesday meeting of the Augusta Commission’s Pension and Audit Committee to go before the commission for approval.
If the choice is Cherry, it may not receive unanimous approval, as commissioners disagree on how often the auditor should be replaced. Cherry has been the external auditor since 1997, working on year-to-year extensions of a one-year contract.
Citing a Georgia Government Finance Officers timeline for replacing the external auditor, Commissioner Bill Lockett said Cherry ought to be replaced.
City finance officials “are much too close to their company as far as I am concerned,” Lockett said.
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, a CPA and former controller at Paine College, said retaining the same firm is appropriate so long as the managing partner overseeing the audit is rotated every three to five years.
The commissioners said they would reserve judgment until the committee returned with a recommendation.
The external auditor differs from the city’s internal auditor, who takes a focused look at internal controls and risk, Finance Director Donna Williams said.
The internal and external auditors also differ from a forensic auditor, for which the city recently sought bids to audit transactions associated with the Trade, Exhibit and Event Center and its parking deck.
Cherry has found little wrong in recent years with the city’s books.
Its 2008 audit report did find several departments overspending their annual budgets without sufficient ongoing controls in place, mismanagement of some federal Housing and Urban Development funds and noncompliance with procurement policies.