Council reverses decision on conducting forensic audit

Published 7:54 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Selma City Council has reversed course and decided to move forward with a forensic audit of city finances.

The council voted 5-2 last week to have the audit done.

Carl Bowline, Susan Youngblood, Miah Jackson, Johnnie Leashore and Michael Johnson voted for the audit, while Angela Benjamin and Jannie Thomas voted against it. Council president Corey Bowie and Councilman Sam Randolph were absent.

The audit will be for three years, and Selma Mayor Darrio Melton was authorized to find the auditor pending final approval from the council.

The council first voted unanimously for the audit in October before deciding to abandon it in an attempt to bring City Treasurer Ronita Wade back to work.

Council members have said Melton told them Wade would be on administrative leave pending the audit. Several council members have said without the audit Wade should be able to return to work.

“The only reason our treasurer is out is because we are conducting the forensic audit. She’s out for that sole reason only,” Benjamin said.

However, a majority of the council felt the audit was needed regardless of the treasurer’s employment status.

“I do think this council doesn’t know the full extent of their finances. I think a forensic audit would give us a firm understanding where our finances are in the city and how money is being spent,” Leashore said. “If you recall, two meetings back all nine of us went on record saying we support a forensic audit.”

Melton fired Wade on Sept. 27, but the council voted to reinstate her the following week. She worked less than two days before Melton put her back on administrative leave.

Melton said Wade being on leave during the audit is “looking at the best interest of her and the city.”

“If [auditors] say it’s fine for the treasurer to come back in while we do the audit, that’s no problem for us,” Melton said. “They reappointed the treasurer, but at the same time, we are investigating what has been going on in the treasurer’s office. You can’t have it both ways.”

Council members have said the audit would cover not just the finance department but all city departments. Randolph said if Wade was on leave than all departments heads should be on leave.

Melton fired Wade saying she had been insubordinate numerous times and worked to undermine him.

Wade, through her attorney, has denied all those accusations and has accused the city of sex discrimination. She has also said she’s being punished for not supporting Melton politically.

Melton has said the council is focused on one of the city’s almost 300 employees.

However, council members continue to ask when Wade will return to work and have discussed but not voted on hiring an attorney to represent the council in the matter.

Until then, Wade continues to be paid as city treasurer.

“The city council voted to reinstate Ms. Wade in that position. Just because she’s on administrative leave, she still holds the title of treasurer,” said City Attorney Jimmy Nunn.

Melton appointed Gerald Cunningham from the Department of Commerce to the treasurer position temporarily. Nunn said once Wade was reinstated that Cunningham could no longer serve as treasurer.

However, Melton appointed Cunningham to another open position in the finance department.

Nunn said the council would have to ask human resources for his exact job description and title.

There was also some discussion about whether Cunningham was bonded to work in that department or not on local radio shows. Thomas researched the issue and found he is bonded.