committee, which consists of five audit professionals from
outside of county government who serve as volunteers, did not
take a formal vote on those points, but made its position clear
while discussing Council's finance committee's recent rejection
of the risk assessment proposal.
the issue would be categorized as routine internal
'housekeeping' in normal circumstances, it is the latest
installment in a running political wrangle over auditor Robert
Hicks stemming from his relationship with the administration of
former County Executive Tom Gordon.
Coincidently, the committee met as word was circulating in
county government offices that Lynn Moroz, who handled loss
management involving workers compensation for the county, had
been charged by U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly with having
willfully not filed federal income tax returns for five years.
In his first audit report nearly a year ago, Hicks questioned
the propriety of Moroz, a former county employee who then was
working as an independent contractor, providing risk management
services under a self-renewing contract. Hicks also questioned
Moroz's business relationship with lawyer Michael Freebery, a
brother of Sherry Freebery, then the county's chief
administrative officer. County Executive Chris Coons reportedly
fired Moroz, who was rehired as a county employee as Gordon's
term was winding down, under provisions of the year's probation
to which all new county employees are subject.
publishing the audit report, Hicks has been the focal point of a
clash between Council members regarded as supportive of Gordon
and Freebery and those who opposed the former administration.
Turning down a call for a vote on renewing a recommendation to
undertake a risk assessment at the audit committee meeting on
Jan. 20, chairman John Wheeler said, "They know how we feel. ...
We did vote [previously] and I think the vote would be the
panel later considered the wording of a job description for
Hicks's position, Wheeler said he personally thought Hicks's
one-man audit department was insufficient for a government the
size of New Castle County's. "They should have at least two
[internal auditors] and they (the auditors) should not be doing
non-auditing work," he said. Hicks also has been assigned some
office-staff administrative responsibilities.
Committee member John Baxter, who had informally polled several
county governments of comparable size around the nation, agreed.
discussion of the risk assessment matter, it was agreed that the
finance committee concluded by an eight-to-four margin that such
a study was unnecessary in the absence of having been officially
notified that the audit committee favored it. Ernst & Young, the
firm which independently audited the county's books, recommended
acknowledged that he had not distributed minutes of the audit
committee's December meeting, at which it voted unanimously to
support the Ernst & Young recommendation. He said it is not
normal practice to 'release' minutes of boards and committees
before they are formally adopted at a subsequent session. The
December minutes were approved at the Jan. 20 meeting.
pointed out, however, that he told the finance committee at its
meeting about the audit committee's position. "I thought they
would take me at my word as a professional on that," he said.
ward off what he termed "a failure of communications" in the
future, Wheeler, with the committee's concurrence, instructed
Hicks to distribute drafts of minutes to Council members.
about the minutes sparked an angry rejoiner from Council
president Paul Clark who said he was "about to explode" over an
arrangement Hicks had made to have a member of the staff of
Wilmington government's internal auditing staff take minutes at
the Jan. 20 meeting. It had been agreed at the finance committee
meeting that Clark, to whom Hicks reports administratively,
would arrange for necessary staff support.
some reason I'm being stymied along the way. ... I'm furious,"
Clark said. He then left the conference room. Returning later,
he apologized to members of the audit committee saying, "You've
been brought into a situation you don't deserve."
Councilman William Tansey was more direct in openly criticizing
Hicks. "The auditor sits as the [conference] table, sets the
[meeting] agenda and releases the minutes when he feels like
it," Tansey said. Wheeler replied that it was appropriate for
the auditor to participate in the meetings and that the agenda
is issued after he (Wheeler) agrees what it should include.
Councilwoman Karen Venezky said she and the finance committee,
which she chairs, opposed the risk assessment, which would cost
$49,500, because Ernst & Young had "just completed a $150,000
audit" and given county finances a clean bill of health.
Besides, she said, it was proposed to give the firm the
assessment job without competitive bidding. It would be more
appropriate, she said, to assess all risks that county
government has and not just financial ones.
Calling a financial risk assessment "the next logical step" in
establishing an effective internal auditing arrangement,
Councilman Penrose Hollins said the assessment would look at
future possibilities while an audit confirmed the accuracy of
reports about what had happened in the past.