At the first meeting of 2022, the Augusta Commission handled some new business by a consent vote and then returned to business that has been brewing for the last year: whether to allow for a total financial audit of the city’s finances.
For the third time, the Commission voted the measure down.
District 10 Commissioner John Clarke and District 3 Commissioner Catherine McKnight softened the language of their motion by asking for an “in-depth” rather than a “forensic” audit. A forensic audit would imply that a criminal act had occurred.
During the discussion, Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. asked Clarke exactly what he was looking for in such an in-depth audit. Clarke said there were many issues such as where the storm water fees are being spent, as well as infrastructure projects.
However, Clarke did not point out the fact that a recent audit, which was instigated by Davis himself under political pressure, resulted in the Commission severely curtailing the mayor’s use of his city-owned credit card.
After the commission meeting, Clark explained that he did not include the mayor’s office as part of his interest in a city-wide audit because the mayor had already been exposed for financial mismanagement and there was no reason to put another microscope on the mayor when the state ethics commission is already investigating those matters.
“He’s already been got. The Augusta Press got him and all that information is out there in the public; all the documents, everything. And now the state ethics commission is looking into it. We need to focus on the whole city. There is a lot of money going through this city and the citizens need a full accounting,” Clarke said.
District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom brought Finance Department Director Donna Williams to the meeting to discuss the annual yearly audit and how the city has fared in past audits. Williams confirmed that the auditors are selected by the procurement department.
“We have received awards for excellence in financial reporting by the Governmental Accounting Organization. That is about as good as it gets,” Williams said.
Clarke disagrees and calls the annual audit required by law a whitewash.
“They don’t study all the numbers. They take samples of different areas and compile a report. There has been no such thing as a true in-depth financial audit since I have been in office, and I am going to continue to stand by my constituents and demand one,” Clarke said.
Clarke and McKnight both vow that they are not going to back down and will keep pressing the matter.
“For some reason, some of these commissioners like to snicker about this and don’t yet understand that this is serious business. The people are demanding transparency, that includes the mayor and all the commissioners and the city departments,” McKnight said.
District 8 Commissioner Brandon Garrett joined McKnight and Clarke in voting for the measure. District 4 Commissioner Alvin Mason was absent from the meeting.