Don’t interrupt or ‘badger,’ school board member admonished. Audit dispute heats up.

A dispute between Fayette County school board members took on steam Monday as Tyler Murphy and Will Nash continued to push to hire a new outside financial auditor.

A Fayette school board policy essentially says the district’s outside financial auditor is to be rebid at a minimum every five years.

The district has had the same firm since 2006, and the firm has had the same managing partners since 2011, which Murphy told fellow board members at Monday’s planning meeting he found “very alarming.”

Nash and Murphy, the board’s two newest members, are raising questions about a proposal to renew the contract of Strothman and Associates for another year at a cost of $94,000 without seeking additional bids.

Murphy and Nash said they are not questioning the firm’s quality of work. Strothman gets high marks from school district officials.

However, Murphy said after the tense Monday board planning meeting that, after 13 years, “It’s time for a change and I’ll be pushing for that.”

The board was in a difficult position, Murphy said, because it was asked to renew the contract in January and was told there was not enough time to get another firm for this year’s audit.

“It makes it difficult for us to do our due diligence and have oversight of one of the most important things that we are doing, the external audit. The process here strikes me as very flawed,” Murphy said.

Nash made similar statements after the meeting.

“It is ...concerning to me that we’ve had such a long relationship not only with a company, but with a managing partner,” he said. “I would prefer to have a new auditor immediately. “

Blunt exchanges punctuated the board meeting. District Chief Financial Officer John White said there was merit in having a firm with skills that could conduct “a high quality” audit. He said there was no value in changing auditors for no reason.

When Murphy countered by saying, “It’s about the integrity of the process,” Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk told him not to interrupt White.

“Let my chief financial officer finish his statement,” Caulk said. “Do not interrupt him. We are here to set an example for our students.”

He said board members could engage in discourse, “but we are going to do that with decorum.”

Later in the meeting, board vice chair Ray Daniels who was conducting the meeting, said there was nothing wrong with having the same firm for 13 years. He said the board would have the opportunity to exercise a vote on the issue. That vote is expected at the monthly Feb. 25 meeting.

“We don’t need to continue to badger these guys (district staff),” Daniels said adding that the board and the district would work as a team to fix policies that needed strengthening. “We’re not going to sit here and badger our team, ” Daniels said.

Nash responded by saying that Murphy had been respectful, and he added, “I take exception with the word badger, to be honest.”

Murphy said Tuesday that he would, at the next board meeting, propose a policy change requiring the board to rotate auditing firms and managing partners in auditing firms in keeping with best practices.

In a statement after the meeting Daniels said that “it’s pretty clear that our district team is not in violation of any procedure or policy.”

“My focus remains on the students we serve,” said Daniels. “Our adult dispute has no impact on the education, feeding and mentoring of our students.”