Friday, July 09, 2010

TOP STORY > >Cabot keeps a close watch on finances

Leader staff writer

An unfilled position at Cabot City Hall is now paying for an auditor to learn the city books and be on hand to ensure a smooth transition when a new clerk-treasurer takes over in January.

June 30 was the last day on the job for Karen Davis, director of operations for Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams. Davis now works for the school district as assistant to the superintendent. Kay Waters, who already worked at city hall, has taken over Davis’ duties.

But the remainder of Davis’ $54,000 annual salary is now being used to pay Calvin Aldridge, the certified public accountant who, two years ago, found discrepancies in the books at the parks department that led to a bookkeeper being arrested for embezzlement, considerable embarrassment and greater scrutiny by the mayor and city council.

Williams said this week that state auditors just finished the city’s books and the report is going to be a good one. But there have always been troublesome glitches with the accounting program that Aldridge had already fixed and by the time a new clerk is elected in November, he will be able to provide any needed training. Candidates for public office in Cabot are not affiliated with political parties.

Everyone runs as independents and no one files until August. Clerk-Treasurer Treasurer Marva Verkler, whose poor health often keeps her out of the office, is not running for re-election. So far, only Norma Naquin who runs the office at Cabot Public Works, has announced for the position.

But for several months, there has been speculation at city hall that one of Verkler’s deputies would run for her job. And although former Alderman Becky Lemaster has not officially announced, she has told The Leader that she intends to run.

While on the council, Lemaster was known for her scrutiny of the city’s spending but most recently, she made the news when her husband, Roger Lemaster, was found guilty of raping her daughter.

Williams, who is running as a Republican for the state Senate and not for a second term as mayor, said he only wants the next clerk-treasurer to have the training needed to come in and go to work.

Alderman Eddie Cook, along with former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh and Bill Cypert, secretary and spokesman for the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, have announced for mayor. Cook said getting an auditor to do more than spot check the books is what he’s been wanting for years.

Cook has been heavily involved with the budget for almost four years. He first chaired a committee working on the budget after Williams had been elected as mayor but before he took office. During that time, the city was barely making payroll and because of outstanding bills the budget was actually in the red.

Although Cook praises the job William has done cutting expenses, balancing the budget and building savings for the city, he said without an outside audit, taxpayers are being asked to have complete faith in what amounts to “the government policing the government.”

“I’m excited about this,” Cook said. “With the turnover that will occur not only with the mayor but the city clerk too, we need to make sure our procedures are in order.”

Earlier this year, he talked to the budget and personnel committee about bringing in a private auditor before the turnover that is coming at the first of the year with a new mayor and clerk-treasurer. But the committee declined, saying the state audits are good enough.

With $27,000 left in the budget this year to pay Davis’ salary, money to pay for an outside audit is not an issue.

“I think this is a huge step financially for our city,” Cook said.