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State audit will cost city $16,000 to $24,000

A state audit of Crestwood's finances will cost city taxpayers $16,000 to $24,000 and should be completed within six months, according to a representative of the Missouri Auditor's Office.

Debbie Lewis and Carl Zilch of the Missouri Auditor's Office addressed the Board of Aldermen last week about the upcoming state audit of the city's finances that primarily will focus on fiscal 2003, which ended June 30.

"The city will be billed only for actual costs incurred. We're from our St. Louis office so you will have no travel expenses ... We estimated the cost at between $16,000 to $24,000,'' Lewis told aldermen Jan. 13.

Kelley Isherwood of Oakville, chairman of the Crestwood Smart Growth Alliance, told aldermen Oct. 28 that his organization had collected more than 1,100 signatures on a petition requesting a state audit.

In November, the city received a letter from the State Auditor's Office that stated a petition containing 1,130 signatures had been submitted requesting a state audit, and 739 signatures were needed to trigger such an audit. Of the 1,130 signatures submitted, 1,020 were signatures of registered Crestwood voters, the letter stated.

Lewis told aldermen that the state audit primarily will encompass fiscal 2003. An independent firm hired by the city, Brown Smith Wallace, currently is working on its fiscal 2003 audit, which should be presented to the Board of Aldermen March 9.

Brown Smith Wallace is the same accounting firm that conducted a forensic audit of Crestwood's fiscal 2001 and 2002 books. The firm has billed the city $36,430 for its investigation.

Ward 4 Alderman Tom Fagan asked Lewis if she had seen the forensic audit report.

"I've looked at most of it — haven't quite got all through it — but we definitely will look at all of it and we will go and review their work to try to avoid any duplication of audit work,'' Lewis replied.

During her presentation, Lewis explained the state audit process.

"This is what we call our entrance conference, which is just a public meeting with the board,'' she said. "We also have a closed meeting with the petitioners where they give us their concerns that they want us to review. The concerns are confidential, we can't give you a list, but I'm sure that your staff will pick up on some of them as we ask questions and what we ask to see.''

Ward 2 Alderman Gary Vincent later asked Lewis, "You mentioned that you would have a closed meeting with the petitioners and ... those are the people who signed the petition is that right?''

Lewis said, "It's usually just a group. We don't meet with all 1,020 people. It's a small group that the chief petitioner brings together for us.''

Vincent said, "And in order to be a petitioner, you have to be a resident of the city of Crestwood. Would that be correct?''

Lewis said, "Um, to sign the petition you have to be. To be on that committee or to meet with us, you don't have to be.''

Vincent said, "Is that an open meeting or is just people who signed the petition are the only ones that are allowed?''

Lewis said, "Like I said, the chief petitioner puts a group together to come and meet with us.''

Vincent said, "What if the chief petitioner is not a resident of the city of Crestwood?''

Lewis said, "That wouldn't matter. I've done audits before where the chief petitioner isn't a resident ...''

Vincent said, "But how can you be a petitioner if you can't sign the petition?''

Lewis said, "Well, maybe we need another name for him. He just has concerns. So he would be invited to — but I think our chief petitioner is a resident of your city.''

Vincent said, "And who was that?''

Lewis said, "I don't think that I can tell you that. I can give you a list of the petitioners that signed it, but I don't know that I can tell just you who the chief petitioner is. I'd have to find that out — confidential is our word. But I can determine that and let you know if I'm supposed to tell you, OK?''

In a recent letter to the editor in another weekly publication, Crestwood resident Roger C. Anderson of the Crestwood Smart Growth Alliance wrote, "I am the designated chief petitioner for the audit of Crestwood by the state of Missouri.''

The Call reported last year that Anderson told the Board of Aldermen Jan. 28, 2003, that a state audit was needed of the city's finances.

Lewis also told the board that field work on the audit will take roughly six to eight weeks, after which the state auditors will have a pre-exit conference with the city administrator and director of finance. State auditors then will return to their office to finish a draft report.

"Then we'll have an exit conference, which is a closed meeting with the board and the mayor and all the officials that you want to have here,'' Lewis said. "But it is a closed meeting; it's closed at our discretion. It's our meeting, not the board's meeting. So we won't have that on a regular board night. We'll have it separate. And that's basically we want to ensure the accuracy of our report and then to give you a chance to discuss anything and then we will get responses from you, probably give you a couple weeks to get them to us ... actually add to the report ...''

State auditors then will conduct a final review process before issuing their final report during a public meeting, she said.

"... We'll concentrate on the most recently completed fiscal year, which will be June 30 of '03,'' Lewis said. "However, the scope for investigation of concerns is not necessarily limited to that. We will, could be back further. It could, it just kind of depends on when we're getting ready to look at things, we'll judge whether we think that it's worth going back to look at those kinds of things and we often look at current procedures, especially in this case where I've seen that forensic audit, I've seen where some changes already have been made. So we're going to want to look at those changes that you've done in the current time to see if you've already taken care of anything that we would suggest or if we have further suggestions.''

The forensic audit of fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 was initiated earlier this year after current city officials began an internal investigation into the accounting practices used by former City Administrator Kent Leichliter and former Finance Officer Robert Wuebbels.

The forensic audit report alleges that Leichliter and Wuebbels violated the City Charter, numerous ordinances and their duties as fiduciary officers in their handling of the city's finances.

The city has filed a lawsuit alleging that Leichliter and Wuebbels breached their fiduciary duties by manipulating financial records to misrepresent the city's true financial condition to Mayor Jim Robertson and the Board of Aldermen.

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