Politics & Government

Somerset agrees to drop lawsuit against state auditor and pay $50,000 for special exam

Eddie Girdler, mayor of  Somerset
Eddie Girdler, mayor of Somerset Herald-Leader

SOMERSET — The city of Somerset agreed to drop its lawsuit challenging the authority of the state auditor's office to do special examinations of cities, officials announced Friday.

Auditor Adam Edelen's office will bill Somerset $50,000 to cover the costs of doing the exam that led to the lawsuit, said Edelen's assistant auditor, Libby Carlin.

The exam cited a number of problems in city financial and personnel practices, including failing to get bids as required for some work, not having contracts in place for special deals on city natural gas, and failing to follow the pay and job-classification plan.

Edelen's office referred findings to the state Attorney General's Office and other agencies.

Edelen and Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler threw some sharp elbows over the exam, with Edelen saying it showed management "that ignores ordinances and policies, skirts oversight and accountability and conducts the business of taxpayers as a few people at the top see fit."

Girdler in turn called Edelen a "self-serving, dishonest politician."

Friday, though, each side issued a short statement saying they'd resolved the dispute.

Edelen said he was pleased with the agreement and that he appreciated how responsive Girdler and the city council have been to recommendations in the exam.

Edelen said with the fee issue settled, his office would take no further action "beyond serving as a resource for Somerset officials as they continue the good work started with this examination."

Some city officials had complained that the bill for the exam meant the city would be paying double for the same work because it had hired an accounting firm for the required annual review of its books.

However, special exams by the auditor's office typically dig into more areas than the annual accounting reviews. The auditor's office undertakes most special city exams in response to concerns about waste, fraud or abuse. Counties and cities pay the auditor's office for audits and exams.

"We felt like that was a reasonable settlement amount," Carlin said of the $50,000 fee, which covered months of work.

The city noted in its news release that the exam found no fraud, no criminal activity and no missing money.

"We take seriously how we spend every penny of taxpayer money and will continue to seek improved efficiencies," the city's attorney, Carrie Wiese, said in the statement.

The controversy received attention beyond Somerset because the city's challenge to the authority of the auditor's office could have had wider ramifications.

State law requires the auditor to do annual audits of county offices. The law does not require the office to audit cities, but it has long claimed authority to do special exams of cities.