Clay County auditor claims accounting firm changed financial statements

CLAY COUNTY, Mo. - Clay County Auditor Sheila Ernzen claims accounting firm Meara Welch Browne changed her county financial statements during their outside audit.

"Things have spiraled out of control," Ernzen said at Friday morning's commission meeting.

"They were taken from me and a material change was made that I do not agree with," she said.

What changed? She says the firm removed the financials of the Clay County Senior Services Board.

"Show their financial information along with the county's financial information to give a true picture of the county's true financial condition," Ernzen said.

Clay County Counsel Donald Norris immediately defended the outside audit Friday morning, saying those financials don't need to be included.

"It's your audit. It does not belong to the county auditor," Norris said.

READ THE STATEMENT FROM THE CLAY COUNTY COMMISSION - http://bit.ly/1563HXR

Ernzen also claims commissioners extended the bid for that outside audit until Meara Welch Browne could submit their proposal.

Firm partner Julie Welch has a personal relationship with Commissioner Pam Mason. Welch also made a contribution to Mason's campaign in 2011.

County documents show Meara Welch Browne's bid of $95,000 was the second highest of 5,000 bids and $35,000 more than the lowest.

"If this firm's independence has not been impaired in fact, it has been impaired in appearance," Ernzen said.

Mason wouldn't comment on camera, but the county commission did release a statement saying:
"Mason abstained from casting a vote to hire the firm...to avoid even the appearance of impropriety....Commissioner Mason's husband went to college with Julie Welch."

Welch says her firm was chosen for their quality. "Our qualifications speak for themselves," she said, "We're used to scrutiny."

County officials admit the deadline to submit a bid for the outside audit was extended several times - but say that is common and at least one extension covered the gap between outgoing and incoming commissioners.

Ernzen isn't satisfied, and says she is standing up for the people of Clay County.

"They need to pay attention to what their elected officials are doing," Ernzen said.

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