A firm auditing a governmental entity’s finances should be unquestionably independent. That’s in the interests of public credibility.
Recently, the West Las Vegas school board debated whether it should choose J.J. Griego Professional Services as the district’s auditor for the next three years, as it has been for the previous three.
Indeed, Griego was the low bidder, coming in at $107,000 to Accounting and Consulting Group’s $133,500. It was believed that Griego had the lower bid because it wouldn’t take as long for Griego to get up to speed, since it has so much experience with West.
But when it comes to independence, there is one issue with Griego. It has hired the district’s former business manager, Jolene Peres, who did a fine job for West. Since she has left, she has provided technical assistance to the new business manager, Doug Hendrickson. And while that help is greatly appreciated, it would call into question the independence of the Griego firm. It’s likely that the firm would operate above-board and not let Peres audit any documents in which she had a role. But there is still the appearance of a conflict of interest. And any auditing firm should know that is something a governmental entity should avoid.
Superintendent Jim Abreu reports that the state auditor’s office and the state Public Education Department are fine with the district choosing Griego. And Hendrickson warned the board that it had a state deadline of June 1 to pick an auditor, so the board had to act quickly.
The board shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a decision if it’s not the right one, even if a staffer is warning about an impending deadline. Public credibility should take precedence.
Still, the board decided to go with Griego, as long as the state signs off on the decision.
One issue that wasn’t raised in the board’s discussion was the danger in keeping the same auditor on board for the next three years. Shouldn’t we change the auditor every few years? Auditing has similarities to proofreading — one person may catch something that another may not.
After auditing West’s books for years, Griego may be missing things that a new auditor will identify as problems. A fresh perspective would benefit the district.
The two board members deserve praise for bringing up the issue of an auditor’s independence. This is the very type of discussion West needs.