As commissioners critique his credit card spending, Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis announced Monday night he wants an audit done by local CPAs Serotta Maddocks Evans.
In an 11 p.m. news release, Davis said the Augusta accounting firm is already performing “similar audits” for the city and could look at his credit card usage at little extra expense.
The demand comes as the commission prepares to vote Tuesday to have the city law department and administrator’s office look at state laws governing the use of purchasing and credit cards and develop a policy for Augusta. The item appears on the commission’s 2 p.m. meeting agenda.
In 2017, the city engaged Serotta Maddocks Evans as its internal auditor and this year has paid the firm $5,382 for internal audit services.
In the statement, Davis said he’s being subjected to “unsubstantiated allegations of abuse, misuse and misconduct of taxpayer funds” that could “weaken public trust and confidence” in its leaders, as well as discourage economic development.
Commissioners have questioned the amounts and purposes of Davis’ spending on his city Suntrust Bankcard and Elan bank-issued purchasing card, and some have already called for an audit.
Davis has stayed within his commission-approved budget for the year, but has put more than $40,000 on the Suntrust card, according to the city’s online record of paid bills.
The charges include payments to current and former employees and other individuals, some through PayPal, according to card statements obtained through an open records request. The largest single charge was a $6,669 payment to LC Studios, LLC, a Florida-based videography firm.
Davis said in the statement the audit will “confirm government compliance with state and local laws” and suggest areas in need of improvement, such as “the public employees responsible for substantiating compliance with the city’s financial guidelines.”
Serotta Maddocks Evans will also “investigate the allegations of fraud or corruption” and “revise, as necessary, the processes used to account for public funds.”
Earlier Monday, Davis sent an email to the commission and Finance Director Donna Williams demanding she provide records of “credit card use, to date, of all cards,” including the names and departments of all to whom cards are assigned. The records, if retained, would go back decades.
In the news release, Davis cites a city code section giving him authority to examine all bills and city financial records or “appoint some competent person” to do so and provide the results to him.
The code section, which lists his powers as mayor, doesn’t specify whether he can select an auditor to investigate himself. The city’s ethics code states a city employee or elected official can’t transact business or make purchases in which the official or an immediate family member has a substantial or financial interest. It empowers the commission with taking legal action against a public official in violation.
At least five commissioners expressed support last week for the credit card policy review. Williams and Procurement Director Geri Sams each agreed when asked that the city could adopt a policy resembling the state’s. The policy requires each card be authorized by a vote of the governing body, and have specific policies for its use including spending limits, types of purchases allowed, the designation of a card administrator and procedures for conducting audits and addressing violations.
The purchases must be made solely for items directly related to the official’s public duties, and documentation for them must be available for public view, it says.
Commissioner Brandon Garrett, who called to change the credit card policy “ASAP,” said Tuesday the request was “a step in the right direction” but more scrutiny is needed.
“I would go a step further and ask for a forensic audit,” Garrett said. A forensic audit is a search for illegal financial behavior. He added, though, that Davis shouldn’t get to select the firm. “You should never never get to handpick your auditor.”
Garrett questioned why the city’s mandatory audit hasn’t identified any of the issues.