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Petition drive forces state audit

by Ivan Foley
Landmark publisher

It’s official.

Overall operations, financial records, internal controls and compliance with the law at the Village of Ferrelview, a site of controversial government actions and lively public meetings in the past year with citizens aggressively questioning city officials, will soon be subjected to a state audit.

Ferrelview is a village of about 450 residents located just east of Interstate 435, and east of the KCI Airport exit off of I-29.

The effort to get the office of Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway to conduct the examination of city operations came in the way of a petition drive among the town’s citizens.

Gena Terlizzi, director of communications for the state auditor, in a phone conversation with The Landmark on Tuesday confirmed the audit will take place.

“We expect to begin work on this audit later this year, in late spring or early summer,” Terlizzi said.

The state, Terlizzi explained, will be auditing the Village of Ferrelview as well as its municipal court.

“The village audit and the court audit will be released as two separate reports,” Terlizzi said.

Terlizzi said any resident of Ferrelview with a complaint or concern about the village’s operations is encouraged to inform the state through what is known as the State Auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline. Persons with information for consideration in the audit can call the whistleblower hotline at 1-800-347-8597.

“They should call if they have anything they are concerned about. We will review all credible submissions and those that rise to the level of an audit finding will then be included in the report,” Terlizzi said.

Leader of the petition drive to ask for the audit was Ferrelview resident Theresa Wilson. A recent letter from the state auditor’s office informed Wilson that the required number of valid signatures of registered, resident voters has been received.

According to requirements set by the state, the number of valid signatures for the audit of Ferrelview was 64. And that is the exact number of signatures that were verified as valid by election officials. The number 64 represents 25% of the registered voters in Ferrelview who cast votes in the last election for governor.

A petition containing 80 signatures requesting the audit of the Village of Ferrelview was received. The Platte County Board of Elections certified 64 of the 80 signatures as being valid registered, resident voters.

Wendy Flanigan, director for the board of elections, told The Landmark this week that her office checked all 80 of the submitted signatures, finding 64 of them meeting validity requirements.

“The audit will primarily cover the current period and most recently completed fiscal year,” Regina Pruitt, CPA, says in a letter to Wilson. Pruitt is the director of local government audits for the state auditor’s office.

Pruitt’s letter says Ferrelview city officials have already been notified of the pending audit.

Dozens of citizens appeared at Ferrelview board of trustees meetings over the past several months, many with complaints about the city operations in general and the city police department in particular.

A meeting exclusively covered by The Landmark last May ended when sheriff’s department deputies and the Ferrelview police chief entered the meeting room and escorted attendees outside.

That meeting seemed to be the beginning of public attention focused on the governmental activities of the village. Some residents soon started pursuing the idea of a petition drive to force a state audit.

There were concerns expressed last summer that the city may not be in compliance with a state statute that limits the amount of revenue generated by its municipal court through traffic fines and other fees to 20 percent of the city’s general operating revenue.

With word from the state that the municipal court will be included in the audit, it is assumed the municipal court income limit will be one of the many items reviewed by the state auditor.

“Although the audit has not started yet, I can tell you that the following items are generally included in the scope of audits performed by the state auditor’s office: evaluations of internal controls over management and financial functions, evaluations of compliance with the law, and evaluations of the economy and efficiency of policies and procedures, and financial records,” Terlizzi said.

She added that auditors will “assess the risk that illegal acts and violations of applicable contracts, grant agreements, or other legal provisions could occur.”

In a face-to-face interview on the topic Tuesday night after the monthly meeting of the Ferrelview Board of Trustees, Steve Carr, chairman of the board, said he had received a letter from the state on the topic. But he claimed state officials had not definitively informed the city the audit will be happening.

“They haven’t said for sure yet,” Carr said, a comment that goes against what state officials wrote in their letter to Wilson, leader of the petition drive.

When told that the state auditor’s office had confirmed to The Landmark this week that the audit is on their schedule, Carr responded: “Then you know more than I do.”

Asked if the city has enough available money to pay the estimated price tag of $20,000 to $35,000 for the audit, Carr said: “No. That’s why these people (the residents who signed the petition) are pushing for it, to break us.”

Asked if he thinks breaking the city is really the goal of the audit petition, Carr remarked. “Yeah.”

Asked if he believes the petition signers want to break the village and somehow force the city to disband, Carr then walked back his comments a bit: “I don’t know what their goal is.”

Carr said a representative of the state auditor’s office had indicated to him the cost probably would not come in as high as state officials are estimating.

“Is it going to cost $35,000? I hope not. If it does I don’t know how we’re going to pay for it. We would have to make some deal with them (the state),” Carr said.

The state auditor’s web site indicates that once a petition is on the list of audits to be performed, “work begins on petition audits as soon as staff members are available. It is often several months before the audit can be scheduled.”

Once the audit begins, the state auditor’s office meets with the governing body of the entity being audited in a meeting to explain the audit process and answer questions. This meeting will be open to the public.

Auditors then enter the field work phase, which includes gathering records and information. After the study is done, a report is drafted and a copy is shared with the governing body in a closed meeting to discuss the findings and begin the process of obtaining responses from the entity. Those responses are included in the final audit report.

The scope of the audit is partially based on information provided, including concerns from the chief petitioner and citizens. Petition audits cover the current period and most recently completed fiscal year when the petition becomes active and the audit is scheduled, with a revision in scope to be determined by the auditor’s office.

The chief petitioner is notified once the audit is considered active and again when the audit is scheduled. The results of the audit will be available to the petitioners and the public once the audit is completed and released.

At the conclusion of some petition audits, a public meeting is held. If a public meeting is not held, a press release will be issued by the state auditor’s office.

If information is uncovered that indicates ongoing criminal activity or fraud, the state auditor’s office informs the proper authorities as soon as possible, according to the auditor’s web site. In less serious cases, the audit report will note the problem and recommend that proper authorities correct the situation.

Steve Carr, chairman of the board of trustees at Village of Ferrelview.