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County board approves audits following 'heated' discussion

  • Brenty Gentry, right, listens, as Jim Marlo, left, addresses Ron Ellis over Ellis's continued opposition to the county's auditing firm.  Ellis previously voted to approve the firm.

    Brenty Gentry, right, listens, as Jim Marlo, left, addresses Ron Ellis over Ellis's continued opposition to the county's auditing firm. Ellis previously voted to approve the firm.
    Holly Kee photo

 
BY HOLLY KEE
hkee@localsouthernnews.com
Posted on 6/14/2019, 5:51 PM

MARION -- Tempers flared Tuesday morning as the Williamson County commissioners once again spent a considerable portion of the regular meeting rehashing Chairman Ron Ellis's contention that accounting services for the county should be bid.

Ellis previously voted to hire the firm of Hudgens and Meyer LLC, a CPA firm based in Marion.

According to a letter Ellis released the day before to various media outlets, he now has issues with employing the firm without putting out a bid for services.

The Illinois Municipal Code does not mandate that professional services be awarded by bid.

In the letter, Ellis said that the county is currently paying 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.

As a sometimes-heated discussion ensued, Commissioner Brent Gentry told Ellis his numbers were misleading.

"The county has budgeted $40,000 for consulting," explained Gentry in an interview following the meeting, "but so far we've only spent $5,500 this fiscal year."

Gentry said as the fiscal year ends Aug. 31, he considers it highly unlikely the county will spend $40,000.

During the meeting, Ellis insisted that the county has paid more than the budgeted amount to the firm for the past three years.

During his statements, Ellis repeatedly named the individual auditor, Kim Meyer, rather than naming the firm.

Commissioner Jim Marlo corrected Ellis several times. "You mean 'the firm,'" he said.

Gentry told Ellis, "You seem to have a problem with Kim (Meyer)."

Ellis continued to hammer his point about the cost of the services. In his letter, he compared those costs to Jackson County expenditure.

"For a point of reference, Jackson County, similar in size to Williamson County, recently bid their next three years of audits to be done. Jackson County is paying $47,000 year one, $48,000 year two and $49,000 for year three."

As the discussion lingered, Ellis said he believes the services to be a conflict of interest. Both Marlo and Gentry pointed out several times that Ellis had voted to approve the firm and the services, not only this year, but in past years.

"Evidently, you thought it was OK for nine years," said Marlo.

Marlo also pointed out that Ellis previously touted the firm and its services.

"When I first got on here, you were the one that put pencil to paper and explained to me the advantage of using that firm," he said.

Gentry agreed, adding that the discussion took place "in that room right there," indicating a space next to the board meeting room.

Marlo told Ellis that cheaper is not always better. "I don't shop cheapness whenever I go to the doctor. There are reasons why certain people have higher qualifications."

After pointing out that the county has had "15 years of a balanced budget which other counties can't do," he told Ellis, "your heart is great but you have a tendency to get worked up on things,"

Marlo expressed a similar sentiment.

"You're very passionate and I respect that... but we've rehashed this is almost every meeting we've had. I'm very happy with the services they (the firm) provide. I don't see there's a problem."

Gentry accused Ellis of "dividing this board," saying that unity among the members was a key factor in his decision to run for office.

On a motion by Gentry, the Board voted 2-1, with Ellis emphatically exclaiming, "absolutely no," to accept the audits of the jail administrator's fund, the treasurer's office exit audit, and the commissary fund audit.

Ellis announced previously that he will not run for re-election.

The next regular meeting of the board is set for July 9 at 10 a.m.