The City of Miami's finances, as well as it operational procedures, will soon be scrutinized by an independent accounting firm and consulting service.

City council members directed city administration to allow Crawford and Associates P.C., an Oklahoma City-based firm that specializes in matters of governmental finance, to review the city’s current financial condition and formulate a proposal for implementation of one or more of its specialized consulting services.

The decision to seek outside assistance came as the city administration and the council learned last week that the city’s longtime auditor has quit and, in a July 27 letter from Ronald C. Cottrell CPA to chief financial officer Charlie Tomlin, recommended that the city not only engage another auditor but hire a separate firm to assist the city in adjustment of its year-end balances and financial statements.

The letter was presented to Tomlin in July as was the 2006-07 audit report — neither of which council members or administration saw until recently.

In his letter, Cottrell alleges that his relationship with the city had become “somewhat confrontational” and cited issues of untimely filings, accuracy and the need for excessive adjustments.

Cottrell’s audit also cites issues of timeliness regarding reconciliation of cash accounts, posting of transactions and the reconciliation of accounts payable.

Additionally, Cotrell noted that expenditures in several departments were greater than the budgeted appropriations.

Management’s response, as recorded in the audit, asserts that software conversions caused delays in general ledger  transactions.

Regarding findings within accounts payable, city management indicated that the past practice has always been to reconcile the account at the end of the fiscal year but noted that monthly reconciliation would be implemented.

In response to the finding that expenditures exceeded some departmental appropriations, management responded with a plan to review budget status reports with department heads at 6-month intervals and on a monthly basis for the balance of the fiscal year.

The circumstances presented in Cotrell’s July letter led to Thursday’s special meeting and an executive session regarding Tomlin’s role as chief financial officer and city clerk.

After emerging from a 2-hour executive session, the council took no action on matters regarding Tomlin.

Council members did, however, recommend that city administration investigate the possibility of dividing the clerk/chief financial officer into two separate positions.

The council, in a posted  agenda item, was expected to discuss proposed ordinance changes regarding the two positions, but it took no action.

The city’s focus now is to bring the city’s finances current, prepare the city for an audit, get a clear picture of the city’s financial status and implement whatever practices are necessary in order to proceed with efficiency.

 “We have no indication that the city’s finances are not in good shape,” Brassfield said.

However, Brassfield also said that he cannot say how much money is in the city’s general fund today. The last time a financial statement was presented to the mayor and council was in July when the city prepared to set the budget.

Crawford and Associates is expected to have a preliminary assessment of consulting needs within days and, if approved by the council, would be ready to implement services in February and have the city prepared for its annual audit by March.

Tomlin, a 27-year employee of the city’s finance department, is out on vacation this week and not available for comment.

The 2006 audit

In September of 2007, Ronald Cottrell CPA wrote a letter to then city manager Michael Spurgeon which outlined  operational conditions discovered in the 2005-06 audit which Cotrell felt should be brought to the attention of city administration.

At that time, Cottrell recommended timely reconciliation of cash accounts, accounts payables and inter-fund activity — as was his recommendation again in 2007.

The 2006 audit report obtained by the News-Record through an Open-Records show an entry for “findings and questioned costs” — but the page is absent from the report.

City administration is aggressively searching for the document, per the request of the News-Record.