Citizens in the audience also accused Newman of accepting bribes and other forms of self-dealing. Allegations included aspersions cast about a company for which he formerly worked accepting a capital investment from a party in a town near New Belgium’s headquarters in Colorado.
Besides clear intent to weaken public trust in Newman, those who spoke also opposed the county investing in green energy. Another item on the agenda, approved 6-1, proposed that the county enter into a contract with a green-energy planning entity via a partnership with the City of Asheville. The purpose was to help the city and county reach their goal of converting to 100% renewable energy sources by 2030. Investment in the contract would not exceed $50,000 from each local government entity.
Commissioner Mike Fryar observed the plan was a bunch of fluff. The county could, he said, build a shed at AB Tech for $50,000. He pointed out the county’s sustainability director didn’t even know where this was heading. County responsibilities, for example, included selecting a committee and managing communications. The partnership in question was the city’s Energy Innovation Task Force, which is working with Duke Energy to eliminate fossil fuel use in the area.
In Other Matters –
In light of the ongoing federal investigation of former county management, Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara has been calling for a forensic audit. As if in response, the commissioners heard an “update” from Larry Harris, chair of the county’s Audit Committee. He explained the scope of a forensic audit would be determined by the commissioners as they balance how much depth and breadth they want to investigate with costs. It would be expensive nonetheless.
Harris recommended against pursuing an audit immediately, because it could interfere with current audits, and the current audits might change what the commissioners wanted to probe. The first audit is the ongoing federal investigation of former county management, which Fryar described as uncovering wrongdoing “every day.” The second is the county’s annual audit. Harris said with every crime disclosed, the county’s internal auditors are having to “recalibrate” internal controls.
As internal controls change, the audit must be redesigned to assess areas newly-discovered as at-risk. That causes the county to amend the audit contract, and all the changes are making it nearly impossible to complete the audit by the October 31 deadline. The county could file for a two-month extension, but even that is looking difficult to meet. Should the county not meet the December 31 deadline, the county would have to answer to the Securities Exchange Commission and the Local Government Commission, and it would, for example, put bond revenues at-risk.
When Commissioner Ellen Frost asked if the former-former county manager had gotten away with so many crimes for so long because she was a forensic auditor, Harris said no. The problem was management was willing to override a good system of controls. The only way to prevent that kind of problem is to make sure people hired are as good as the controls.
On this subject and others, Fryar and Commissioner Robert Pressley argued that their peers were acting as if they had an infinite supply of taxpayer dollars. Pressley even suggested people wanting to serve as commissioners should have experience being the person in a business that writes the checks.