Advisory group weighs city audit | AspenTimes.com

Advisory group weighs city audit

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

A resident financial advisory group met with Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick and Finance Director Don Taylor on Wednesday as the city begins its search for a third-party auditor in light of a parking-meter scam that has resulted in more than $600,000 in fraudulent transactions since 2010.

Following the reassignment of Parking Director Tim Ware on Oct. 1, city officials reached out to Avon-based McMahan & Associates ­— an accounting firm that conducts annual audits for the city — to discuss the possibility of performing the review. City critics questioned that move shortly after, asking if Aspen's regular auditor is partly responsible for the losses.

At Monday's Aspen City Council meeting, both Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Dwayne Romero briefly discussed the critics' claims.

"There's a threshold question right there out of the gate: Is McMahan an appropriate body?" Romero said. "It may actually be more constructive and productive to go ahead and deploy and dispatch an outside, independent agency and ask McMahan & Associates to stand down. We'll see (what happens) Wednesday."

Former Clorox Co. executive Pete Louras — who is joined by retired banker Howie Mallory and Aspen Music Festival finance administrator Jenny Elliot on the board — called Wednesday's meeting with Barwick and Taylor "a good first step."

City spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin released a statement Thursday saying the city will seek bids for the audit, with the goal of having a report back by late winter.

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"The city's goal is to have an independent accounting firm express an opinion on the design of internal controls related to revenue collection systems," the statement reads. "This will review controls over the collection of revenue and identify any weaknesses existing in the system. In addition, the city will request that the selected accounting firm provide additional focus on the Parking Department revenue systems."

Barwick noted in the statement that Taylor and the advisory board will review the proposals, interview the respondents and make a recommendation to the council. The board also will review the draft report and discuss with Taylor any problem areas and recommendations for improvement, the statement reads.

"The city welcomes the opportunity for process improvements identified through this independent review," Barwick wrote.

In the city's 2015 budget, the Parking Department has requested a 50-cent hike for downtown parking, which both Romero and Councilwoman Ann Mullins opposed recently. The council is expected to formally address the request before the end of the October budget discussion.

Parking Operations Manager Blake Fitch is serving as interim director of the department while the city searches for Ware's replacement.

herk@aspentimes.com

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