Williamson County Board discusses audits

Commissioner Jim Marlo (from left), Chairman Ron Ellis and Commissioner Brent Gentry discuss audits Tuesday morning during a regular meeting in Marion. 

MARION — Should professional services for Williamson County be awarded through a bid process? That question resulted in a disagreement among County Board Chairman Ron Ellis and commissioners Brent Gentry and Jim Marlo during the board's regular meeting Tuesday morning in the county government building.

The agenda for the meeting included approving an audit for the county commissary fund and exit audits for the treasurer’s office and jail administrator, all to be done by Hudgens and Meyer LLC, a Marion CPA firm.

According to a letter Ellis emailed The Southern on Monday, he has a couple issues with the way the board awards contracts for auditing, consulting and budgeting.

First, the county does not seek bids for those services. Williamson County pays Hudgens and Meyer $75,000 to act as the county auditor; $40,000 for consulting; $17,000 to prepare the county budget; and $8,000 for the circuit clerk audit, for a total of $140,000, according to the letter.

Jackson County recently bid its next three years of audits and will pay $47,000 this year, $48,000 next year and $49,000 in 2020.

The other issue mentioned in the letter is that the firm handles auditing, budgeting and consulting for the county. An auditor is supposed to be independent.

When the audits came up during the board meeting, Ellis again protested the fact that they had not sought bids for the services.

“The question I have on this is, once again, we have an engagement letter and we are not taking any bids apparently,” Ellis said.

“We all agreed to it,” Gentry said, adding that Kim Meyer has already been working with the treasurer and jail administrator to prepare for the audit.

Ellis said the board is not upholding its fiduciary responsibility if it is not taking bids.

“Does this hold true for the first 10 years you were here?” Marlo asked.

Ellis said it was true for his tenure, which he pointed out has not quite been 10 years. He said he has argued quietly the past two years. The bottom line is they need to get bids for the audit work, he said. He said Meyer has done the auditing for 20 years.

Gentry said that is not uncommon, pointing out that Herrin has had the same auditor for 22 years, and Marion has had the same auditor for 18 years.

The discussion went on for 25 minutes, with Ellis saying the board should bid the services. Marlo and Gentry defended the board’s actions.

Marlo pointed out several times that Ellis had voted to give the contracts to Hudgens and Meyer. Marlo and Gentry defended not taking bids, with Gentry saying the county deserved the best auditor they could find and calling Kim Meyer that auditor.

Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS5/8-8-8) states: “Contracts for the performance of audits required by this Division 8 may be entered into without competitive bidding.”

“Your numbers are misleading, Ron. There’s $5,500 actually spent on the $40,000,” Gentry said.

Tempers flared a bit before Marlo told Ellis this was a difference of opinion. While Ellis is very passionate about his opinion, Marlo and Gentry disagree.

Marlo also pointed out that Ellis is the person who explained to him as a new board member the advantages of using Hudgens and Meyer.

“It is a travesty, in my opinion, that we don’t bid it,” Ellis said.

The discussion went from audits to discussing other professional services, closing the county for inclement weather, whether or not one person can be the auditor and consultant, and the budget vote.

“Your heart is great, but you have a tendency to get worked up on things,” Gentry said to Ellis.

Gentry talked about a former County Board firing Hudgens and Meyer and hiring a different auditor. They hired another firm that caused problems until they hired Hudgens and Meyer back. He said they left the meetings wanting to fight and argue. One of the reasons he ran for commissioner was he believed the board could be and do better.

“Since I’ve been on this board, we’ve had a balanced budget for 15 years and I’m very proud of it,” Gentry said.

Gentry finally made a motion to approve the engagement letter for each of the three audits, sometimes talking over Ellis to do so. Gentry and Marlo voted to approve the three letters. Ellis voted no on the engagement letters.

After the meeting, Gentry explained that the county budgeted $40,000 for consulting, but has only spent $5,500 so far this fiscal year. The year ends Aug. 31, which means it is unlikely they will spend $40,000.

Ellis explained that the audits were on the agenda, so he wanted to discuss bidding the audits. The audit for the treasurer is required by law because the treasurer is leaving office early. The new jail administrator requested an audit of the two funds he will oversee.

Ellis said the county has paid Hudgens and Meyer more than the amount that was budgeted the past three years. 

Ellis previously announced he will not seek reelection. “I’m tired of politics. After 12 years, I’m not going to do it again,” Ellis said.

He added that he has picked someone to take his position on the board. An announcement will be made later this month.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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