To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer did not take part in a vote this week to appoint a new auditing firm for the county.
Griesheimer’s wife works for another accounting firm that also takes part in the county’s financial auditing process.
Griesheimer said he keeps “clear away” from any votes dealing with the auditing firms due to his wife’s connection.
“That would be a conflict of interest if I did,” Griesheimer said.
County commissioners Mike Schatz and Tim Brinker this week voted 2-0 to appoint Bates CPAs of St. Charles as an auditing firm for the county.
Prior to Bates being appointed, Balestra, Harr & Scherer of Worthington, Ohio, had been hired for the 2010-2012 audits. But that firm was unable to complete the 2010 and 2011 audits in a timely manner, and therefore the new company will now take its place, officials say.
Balestra, Harr & Scherer was appointed after Griesheimer took office as a county commissioner in 2011.
Prior to that firm being hired, Washington-based Hochschild Bloom and Company did the county’s entire outside audit. But since Griesheimer’s wife, Rita, is a partner in that firm, another company had to be brought in when he took office in 2011.
Hochschild Bloom is still involved in the county’s auditing process. But the other firm also is there to provide an “extra set of eyes,” said County Auditor Tammy Vemmer.
Hiring two firms makes it safe for the county in terms of maintaining impartiality, Vemmer added.
Employing two firms instead of one basically costs the county the same, she said. It is just a matter of the costs being split between two firms, she explained.
The total cost with both firms included is $31,000 this year, with $20,900 going to Hochschild Bloom and $10,100 going to Bates CPAs.
As the county auditor, Vemmer said she thinks that the county has met its obligations in terms of having an independent audit conducted.
When Griesheimer became a commissioner the independence between the county and Hochschild Bloom was not as strong, Vemmer said.
The firm that Griesheimer’s wife is associated with still does the county audit “fieldwork,” such as reviewing financial information and statistical data as well as doing budget comparisons.
Hochschild Bloom also audits the county’s federal grants to make sure they are used appropriately.
While her firm helps with the county’s audit, Griesheimer herself does not take part in it directly, Vemmer said.
“Rita (Griesheimer) is really not involved in the fieldwork,” Vemmer said.
The Bates CPAs firm reviews Hochschild Bloom’s fieldwork and issues the independent auditor’s report, she noted.
Vemmer said Hochschild Bloom arranged for Bates to be the additional accounting firm for the county. She said she does not think this is a conflict of interest.
Vemmer said the county’s three-year agreement with Hochschild Bloom is in its final year.
In some cases, Hochschild Bloom has been the only firm to respond when the county seeks bids for accounting firms, she added.
Vemmer said Hochschild Bloom has been involved in the county’s auditing the 10 years she has been with the county.
The county has a financial audit conducted annually and for the last 20 years has received the Certificate of Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association, she noted.