School Board member Ed Davidson says he will recommend hiring an internal auditor to probe district finances when the board meets at 5 p.m. today in Marathon.
Specifically, Davidson, who represents District 3, will recommend the district take on Stuart Kessler, a former lawyer and Florida certified internal auditor to tackle the thorny issues raised by a preliminary report of the Florida Auditor General, back in February, as well as the "multiple apparent discrepancies" with some of the change orders relating to the construction of the new, $40 million Horace O'Bryant K-8 School in Key West.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter has responded with his official reply to the state attorney general, but earlier this month, the Florida Legislature's Joint Legislative Auditing Committee sent a letter to Board Chairman Andy Griffiths demanding an explanation from the board for recurring problems with the district's finances. Six of the findings made by the attorney general have become perennial issues, dating back to 2009 and the corruption-tainted administration of former Superintendent Randy Acevedo.
In an April 13 email to his fellow board members and Porter, Davidson points out that the committee has the legal authority "to determine if the [district] should be subject to further state action," and could, in fact, "direct the Department of Revenue and the Department of Financial Services to withhold any funds not pledged for bond debt service satisfaction ... until the entity complies with the law."
Given the recurring issues, and the fact that Acevedo was removed from office by the governor, Davidson goes on to suggest that "surely no school district in the state would make as easy and tempting a political target to make an example of."
As a remedy, Davidson suggests that the board "should consider hiring [Kessler] immediately ... as our internal auditor for an 18-month period to address the current audit findings with a credible board-directed remedial action plan ... plus resolving the many [HOB] irregularities. ..."
Contacted Monday, Davidson said "events of the past year have proven that it was clearly a major mistake for the School Board to transfer its former internal auditor Ken Gentile to a district staff position instead, long before his work for the board had been completed. Because of his two-year service as chairman of the Audit and Finance Committee, in addition to the School Board's request that he and I review in detail all of the 81 HOB change orders, Stuart Kessler is the only person who could hit the ground running, full-tilt, with only six weeks remaining to wrap up HOB change orders and finances."
"The short time frame for resolving any HOB discrepancies creates such urgency that I'm going to request it be added to the official agenda," Davidson added.
Superintendent Porter, on Monday, said that while he was open to the idea, he wasn't sure that hiring Kessler was a necessary step to take.
"I don't know if the role of an internal auditor is justified, at this time, for one project," Porter said. "However I do know that we will need to assign additional resources to the close-out of the HOB project. In that regard I am exploring all options and alternatives using both internal and external resources. It's an issue that's kind of been percolating a bit, but I just don't know if it's an expenditure that makes sense where we are as an organization right now."