News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

June 9, 2014

Rift grows over consulting service

Financial counsel capped at $10K, down from $20K

TERRE HAUTE — The City of Terre Haute has officially hired Sackrider & Co., a CPA firm, to provide financial consulting services for the City Council.

The Board of Public Works and Safety, which handles city contracts, voted 4-0 Monday to renew for 2014 last year’s contract with Sackrider. The move was widely expected after the City Council in May approved spending up to $10,000 for financial consulting services this year.

Despite the vote, Jon Stinson, vice president of the board of works, questioned the need for a council consultant.

“Is the city getting any value out of this or is it just to appease some people?” Stinson asked.

Chou-il Lee, city attorney, responded that the City Council approved spending money for a consultant, so he would assume members of the council who favored the move see value in it.

Amy Auler, council president, attended the board of works meeting and said the consulting services have “been an asset” to some members of the council.

The question of hiring a financial consultant is a point of contention on the council. Those calling for consulting services tend to be members of the council who have expressed strong concerns about Mayor Duke Bennett’s handling of the city’s budget and the quality and timeliness of financial information provided by the city. Those in opposition argue a consultant’s services are not necessary because financial data are available through the city controller’s office and state audits.

Last year, the council approved spending up to $20,000 for financial consulting services from Sackrider. This year the ceiling has been set at $10,000 – money that was transferred to the council from the city’s legal department. An attempt to add another $5,000 to that from the City Council’s own budget failed to win a majority on the nine-member City Council last month. The vote was 4-4 with one abstention, meaning the effort failed.

Earl Elliott, a CPA for Sackrider, served as the principal consultant for the council last year and is expected to provide that service again this year. The contract explicitly forbids Elliott or anyone else with Sackrider from talking with any third party, including the news media, about “the services provided in connection with this Agreement. …”

The contract, which allows either party to cancel without cause on 30 days’ notice, sets a fee of $125 per hour for the services of Elliott or any other partner with Sackrider. The fee is $95 per hour for non-partner professional staff services and $30 per hour for support staff services. Last year’s total bill from Sackrider was approximately $17,500.

The Board of Public Works and Safety is a five-member body appointed by the mayor to oversee city contracts. Member Cary Sparks was absent from Monday’s meeting. Present were Bob Murray, president, Roland Shelton, Stinson and Jim Trimble.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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