Belle mayor updates public on unfinished audits amidst citizen concerns

New board sets budget workshop to discuss financial uncertainties 

By Roxie Murphy, Assistant Editor
Posted 4/17/24

BELLE — During the April 10 meeting, Belle Mayor James (Pudd) Mitchell informed the public that the audits for the 2019-22 fiscal years, awarded to KD Audit on Jan. 10, 2023, remain unfinished, …

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Belle mayor updates public on unfinished audits amidst citizen concerns

New board sets budget workshop to discuss financial uncertainties 


BELLE — During the April 10 meeting, Belle Mayor James (Pudd) Mitchell informed the public that the audits for the 2019-22 fiscal years, awarded to KD Audit on Jan. 10, 2023, remain unfinished, but are expected to be completed in April. The news comes on the heels of a Belle resident who petitioned the Missouri State Auditor’s Office last month to have a city audit completed in light of several recent legal battles, and high rates of turnover among elected officials and employees.

“We have an audit that is a three-year audit for (2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22) and we have been told that it will be done by the end of April,” Mitchell said. “While we are on that note, there was an article put in the paper that we had stopped an audit. We never stopped no audit.”

The article Mitchell referred to was printed in the April 3 edition of the Maries County Advocate titled “Resident launches petition for State Auditor to examine Belle’s finances” where homeowner Rebecca Withouse was quoted saying the board acknowledged it had “stopped the audit.”

“That’s what you said at a meeting that the cameras weren’t working at,” Withouse said. “I asked about it and I was told that we don’t even know that we are doing anything with that anymore. I was there, and I wouldn’t have said something if I didn’t believe what I said.”

Withouse said later she did go back to the broadcasted meetings on Facebook and found a Jan. 22, 2024, meeting where Mitchell did say they hadn’t stopped the audit.

“When I stated on April 10, 2024, that ‘you had stated at a meeting’ I was referring to the board as a whole, not an individual. I tend to refer to the board as ‘you’ because I do think of the board as a single entity, not the individuals that I should.”

“For the record, we have never stopped an audit,” Mitchell said again.

Withouse asked why the audit only goes to fiscal year 2022, not through the fiscal year 2023. Charro Reasor, city treasurer, said the audits were solicited separately.

“When we solicited for this bid, we were in the 2023 year,” Reasor said. “We were four years passed due. We got the one completed and solicited for the other three years. We were in current 2023 when we solicited.”

Reasor said on April 11 that Deluca previously struggled to receive responses to her requests for information. However, she believes the auditor has everything she needs to begin.

“In 2018-19, she didn’t have everything she needed to complete an audit,” Reasor said. “We started sending information in late May or early June of 2023 — over several months.”

Alderman Jeanette Struemph, who took the seat of former alderman Emily Williams earlier in the meeting, asked about the payment and timeline for the auditor, Kristen Deluca, to complete the audits — was it overdue?

“We have not paid her and no,” Reasor said.

Alderman Kevin Guffey added that the audit process hasn’t been completed since Alderman Steve Vogt resigned in 2021 from the mayor seat.

“Nobody took anything forward when he resigned,” Guffey said. “So we are trying our best to catch up and go through it. The auditor’s recommendations will also help us in what changes we can make now before we set a new budget by June 30 and be where we are back all in compliant moving forward.”

Withouse asked if they planned to extend the audit through the 2023 fiscal year.

“We will solicit for that next year,” Reasor said.

Struemph said she didn’t remember exactly what happened during the period audits weren’t taking place.

“We were on a roll to do a three-year contract with this lady, “ Struemph said. “She did the one year, but she put us off and put us off. Then after that, we couldn’t get anything except ‘I need more info.’ We would give her more info and then — that’s the way it’s been rolling.”

Mitchell addressed city attorney Todd T. Smith with Lauber Municipal Law about his recent conversation with the auditor, KD Audits in St. James.

“I did have a chat with her in regards to some of my due diligence,” Smith said. “At the time, she didn’t have the capacity to do what I was looking for. I was looking for a quick little audit and she wasn’t able to accommodate us then. In fairness, that was some time ago — last year — but I did reach out to the accountant.”

Smith said he is sure every accounting firm in the state is busy as tax deadlines were only a week away.

Delmar Branson said he felt the audit would clear the air for the new board.

“With all the rumors and things, it would put the city back on a good, firm platform to take off on and they can’t say, ‘well, five years ago this happened.’ We’re clean.”

Guffey said that was the goal.

“I do have the forms if you would like to sign them for the petition,” Withouse shared with the board.

“No,” Guffey declined. “We’re gonna fix it out, we don’t need the state involved.”

Struemph said they didn’t have any problems in the past.

During a special July 21, 2022, meeting — the one that took place directly after White’s ascension to the mayor — former alderman Kayla Bray made a motion to have an audit conducted as soon as possible. The motion passed with a 4-0 vote.

When bids did not go out in July, Bray made a second motion on Aug. 9, 2022, to go out for bid, which also passed with a 4-0 vote.

On Aug. 29, 2022, the board hired Charro Reasor with a 4-0 vote.

The item was placed on the Sept. 13, 2022, agenda but struck because bids weren’t solicited and there were no updates. Again on the Oct. 10, 2022, agenda, and again postponed. On Nov. 8, 2022, the item was on the agenda again with the note that the treasurer had questions and was again tabled for the following month.

The item was on the Dec. 12, 2022, agenda, but was not addressed in the minutes.

On the Jan. 10, 2023, agenda, the line item said auditing. According to the minutes the city solicited for the last three years of audits and received the following bids:

KD Audit will not exceed $20,000; Winfrey Certified Public Accountants: $64,500; Hood and Associates CPAS: $45,000-$55,000; and Evers and Company: $63,050.

The board was awarded to KD Audit with a 4-0 vote.

Auditing was listed on the Feb. 13, 2023, agenda, but the minutes did not mention any discussion.

The budget was also a second cause for concern. The board scheduled a work session at 6 p.m. on April 30 at the Lonnie Feeler Memorial Building.

“We are going to schedule a special work session to discuss the budget and see where we’re at and if we need to rearrange some things, then we can,” Mitchell said. “We want the public to know we’re gonna schedule a work session so everybody knows.”

Alderman Steve Vogt, sworn into the Ward 2 seat formerly held by Adam Padgett, reminded the public that the budget is not approved during work sessions.

“There’s a lot of things and the way things are set up at the moment that we as the council want to change,” Guffey said. “We’ve talked with Charro about it and she’s learning her job on the fly, but there’s just some issues that we need to go through and discuss. We will probably be doing it back there at the back table. The public is always welcome to come and listen in. We don’t vote during the work session, it’s just a time when the council let’s the public know and the public is always welcome. It’s mostly just going to be listening to us go through the budget and the changes we need to definitely make about the way things are being operated.”

“That’s what she was given,” said Alderman Barb Howarth. “That’s what she inherited.”

“We are reviewing how we are spendin’ the money if we are spendin’ things out of the right accounts,” Vogt clarified further.

In other business, the board of aldermen approved moving monthly meetings back to the second Tuesday of each month. The next Belle Board of Aldermen meeting will be held on May 14 at the Lonnie Feeler Memorial Building.