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Dylan Vidovich/HD Media Williamson City Councilman Randy Price calls for a full forensic audit of city finances during the council’s regular meeting Thursday, July 23.

WILLIAMSON — The Williamson City Council unanimously voted to perform a full internal forensic audit of the city’s bank accounts during its regular meeting Thursday, July 23.

Mayor Charlie Hatfield began the discussion by saying that he has called for an audit of the city’s finances since he became mayor in 2017, noting that one hasn’t been performed since 2014. He suggested council stay away from a “forensic” audit due to the high cost of performing one.

Hatfield also suggested tabling the audit idea until the next meeting in order to give recently hired city clerk Cheri Horton more time to become familiar with the city’s finances. Councilman Randy Price responded that he feels council cannot afford to put the audit off any longer.

“I feel it’s now the time that our city officials conduct a full forensic audit of all our finances, including utilities, city B&O and all other bank accounts under control of our city,” Price said. “All guidance information pertaining to city audits states that cities should perform an audit at least every other year, if not yearly. I feel we have failed our citizens, our past and present city clerk, by not performing an audit before this request.”

Price said he has the “utmost confidence” in Horton to perform the duties of city clerk if the council gives her the tools to do so. Price also said a letter from the West Virginia State Auditor dated April 17, 2019, concerning fire and police pension funds “seems to admonish” the city for not performing a recent audit.

“I recall this council making a motion in 2019 to pay off our loan on our police cruisers, and it did not happen,” Price said. “It violated council’s direct order to do so, leading me to believe there may be discrepancies in our police utility fund.”

Price concluded that the city’s “dire financial condition” — citing the recent closure of Williamson Memorial Hospital, layoffs at the Norfolk and Southern railroad yard, coal industry declines and the COVID-19 pandemic — can only be corrected by the “truths” a financial audit would provide.

“There’s some other stuff here, but I really feel that an audit is sorely needed,” Price said. “I’ve discussed it with department heads and other council members, and I think now’s the time that we should make a motion, and I think that we should go with the forensic. There can be questions we can discuss when we make the motion and discuss to let (city attorney) Nathan (Brown) guide us on it.”

Hatfield said he feels the motion should be to direct Horton to contact the State Auditor’s Office and ask them to come to Williamson and set the audit up. He said they will look at the number of accounts the city has and provide a list of state-approved certified public accountants (CPAs). From there, Horton chooses the firm, and they will give a price to perform the audit.

Price responded that council members have already spoken to city attorney Nathan Brown and that he has agreed to make that contact. Brown said he has already contacted the Auditor’s Office and was told that the state is behind on the audits they are currently performing.

He said he was advised that Williamson or any other municipality is allowed to hire an outside entity, without approval from the State Auditor’s Office, to perform an audit as long as they have the funds to do so.

Hatfield said that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, former city clerk Meredith Anderson was contacted by the State Auditor’s Office to inquire about performing one. He said they requested information regarding city bank accounts so they can begin the process of setting an audit up.

Brown suggested the motion be made to have Horton obtain audit estimates from outside entities.

Price made the motion to conduct a full forensic audit of all finances, including utilities, city B&O and all other bank accounts. The motion passed unanimously, and Price said further details regarding how the audit will be handled will be figured out later.

Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196.