“Discretion,” said Falstaff in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” “is the better part of valor.”
So too may it be the better part of conducting county affairs.
Despite the exhortations of Chairman Wendall Kessler, who does not have a vote unless there is a tie, Effingham County commissioners voted 3-2 to keep the contract for a county audit with the firm Caines and Hodges.
Kessler said he had “serious concerns” about the audit and also asked why the board would continue to engage the firm in the wake of audit findings being leaked prior to its presentation to the board.
“Would it not be prudent, in the eyes of citizens, to draw the line and get another firm that would not be tainted in any way to do the audit?” he asked.
It’s a question that has merit and deserves an answer. In this case, discretion is the better part of perception and trust with the citizens.
The audit was six months late, and that too rankled Commissioner Steve Mason.
We certainly don’t wish to impugn Mr. Caines’ credibility, ability or ethics. He and his firm have performed numerous audits competently for various governments and entities. Rincon City Council approved retaining Caines and Hodges to conduct their audits.
“They continue to provide an excellent service for our administration,” said Rincon City Manager Wesley Corbitt.
But the Springfield City Council, taken aback by the flack generated by the county audit’s leak, opted to hire a Statesboro firm instead to conduct its upcoming audit.
There were items and findings included in the most recent audit that had not been in previous versions, namely the relationship between former county clerk Patrice Crawley and former county administrator David Crawley. The two had been married to each other for a few years, with a previous board of commissioners agreeing to two of its top employees having a relationship outside the office.
For years, that had not been an issue in the audit. For the recent one, it was.
Kessler even used auditor Donald Caines’ own words in beseeching fellow commissioners to entertain the idea of using a different firm to conduct the next audit, noting Mr. Caines had said “a fresh set of eyes” had helped pull the audit together.
Perhaps getting a new auditor every few years could be a good idea, ensuring that a detached and dispassionate review of the county government’s operations can be conducted.
“There was information that was incorrect,” said Commissioner Reggie Loper of the recent audit. “There were personal conclusions that were not factual and there was no attempt to confirm the truth.”
As we understand it, the Crawleys asked for copies of the extension request, which they did not get until they resigned under pressure. The audit leaks were ostensibly aimed to put their jobs into question. But for all the bluster about the audit before it was presented in full to the commissioners, we were told several times by people who read it or were in attendance that night, “That’s it?”
Even the special audit — and the inference that it would provide a “smoking gun” — of the solid waste and sanitation department did not point any fingers at any living current or former employee of the county. Mr. Caines told the commissioners as much. But the result of the leaking of the audit led to the Crawleys being forced out, or in Mr. Loper’s eyes, “fired.”
One of the few defenses offered of the audit by the commissioners was Forrest Floyd’s declaration that he had “confidence in Mr. Caines.”
It’s not that Mr. Caines can’t or doesn’t do good work. But there was far too much controversy surrounding the last audit, from its lengthy delay to its information getting released in an apparently self-serving manner, to sufficiently assuage the citizens of the validity of the next audit.
In this case, discretion on choosing an auditor would have better served the community.