Internal control discussion shut down by council

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Franklin City Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham made a recommendation to amend the agenda at the city council meeting on Monday night regarding internal controls in the Franklin City School Board. However, when it came time to make a motion, the majority of council voted against the motion. Cheatham was proposing the discussion of the internal control response letter the school board sent to the Virginia Department of Education regarding the issues the city’s audit found, but much of council felt the only discussion they should be having was regarding the budget and the future.

“I’d like to make an amendment to the agenda to talk about the internal control letter that was written by the school board and give kind of an update on what the letter should have looked like,” Cheatham said.

Councilman Benny Burgess said, “I’ll second that.”

Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn then jumped in and said, “As long as we talk about the process we’re fine. If it’s specific to funding or personnel, we are overstepping.”

Other council members then jumped into the conversation voicing their opinion. Mona Murphy, Mary Hilliard and Greg McLemore all said they felt that they were overstepping their boundaries.

“I would just like to say before we take this vote … I am not for discussing the school board’s issues pertaining to the past procedures unless they have done something illegal,” McLemore said.

Murphy said she wanted City Attorney Taylor Williams’ opinion on what they were legally allowed to discuss and what they weren’t.

Burgess then spoke up and said, “I support the motion because it was the city’s audit, it’s not the school’s audit, it’s the city’s audit. We should be able to discuss our audit and the impact this can have on the city.”

Mayor Johnson-Ashburn said, “I said what I said because we are dealing with a future budget and I believe that if we want to put something in place, now is the time, during this budget season.”

Councilman Frank Rabil then added, “I agree with Mr. Burgess, this is the city’s audit, not necessarily the school’s audit, the school is a part of it. I think anytime we are allocating funds to anybody we need to realize the funds we are allocating our not our funds, but the tax payer’s funds … I think it’s probably worth discussing.”

The mayor then asked city attorney Williams to enlighten council on what they were legally allowed to talk about. He said they he had spoke with Mr. Whiley, an independent attorney the City had used before, and asked for his opinion.

“Mr. Whiley’s opinion was that council could discuss this matter in terms of the process of the budget going forward, that it was his opinion that council should not get into a discussion involving the audit in the perspective of probably what the motion is designed the address, which is, ‘Why haven’t we heard more?’”

McLemore then asked if there was any way that council could be in charge of what money goes to what when it came to the school board.

“We can go to a categorical budget,” Rabil answered. “If we go that route, then when the budget comes in that you have a certain amount for instruction, certain amount for transportation ….”

Cheatham spoke up and said they were swaying off from the discussion of what he wanted to have.

“What I wanted to talk about was the internal controls, which is part of the audit … the internal controls or the lack thereof, which was stated by the auditor and how the school board does not understand what an internal control report is,” he said.

Mayor Johnson-Ashbrun then asked Cheatham, “What you are talking about is the process of internal controls, but not relating to last year’s funding?

Cheatham responded saying, “Right, it’s relating to what needs to take place, what they need to do to strengthen it, to protect our assets in the coming years.”

The motion was then put to a vote.

Councilman Burgess, Vice Mayor Cheatham and Rabil all voted in favor of the motion, but the majority, the mayor, McLemore, Murphy and Hilliard, all voted against it.