The Saratoga Sun -

How much has it cost?

Saratoga Town Council debates payments to James Childress at final meeting of the year

 

December 30, 2020



At the final meeting of 2020 of the Saratoga Town Council, held on December 15, Councilmember Jon Nelson continued to express his frustration and concern with payments to James Childress, the third-party accountant originally engaged by the governing body in September 2019.

Over $8,000

The concerns from Nelson came early in the meeting, as Saratoga Town Treasurer Sammy Flohr read the accounts payable for the council. Among those accounts was an invoice from Childress Accounting and Consulting for $9,923.33. 

“I know we’ve been through this before, I understand it may get paid regardless of what I have to say but I believe we made it pretty clear that the services were not to exceed $8,000 a month,” said Nelson. “So, I take exception to that invoice.”

As was previously reported (see “No body, no crime” on page page 16 of the February 26 Saratoga Sun), Childress had been engaged by the Town of Saratoga a third time—the two previous engagements were in September and November—with a list of duties related to the Town’s financial issues. That engagement came with a directive not to exceed $8,000 a month.

As the year and the engagement progressed, however, Nelson would raise concerns over the invoices presented to the governing body by Childress Accounting and Consulting (see “Just a little over $8,000” on page 12 of the April 15 Saratoga Sun and “Just a little over $8,000, again” on page 12 of the June 10 Saratoga Sun).

The amounts ultimately paid to Childress were $8,899.15 for April and $8,400.12 for June. The latter was paid following multiple special meetings in June in regards to Childress’ engagement and the Fiscal Year 2020/2021 budget.

Councilmember Judy Welton responded to Nelson’s concerns over the invoice by stating that the governing body had “asked him continually to do extra work, so I’m sure that’s why the extra amount.” 

The first vote in regards to the accounts payable failed following a 2-2 vote with Nelson and Councilmember D’Ron Campbell voting nay. Nelson then made a motion to pay Childress $8,000 and pay the remaining $1,923.33 at a later meeting.

Nelson had made similar motions in the past. During the April 7 meeting, he was outvoted 3-2 with himself and Councilmember Bob Keel providing the dissenting votes.

“We did ask Mr. Childress to, in essence, put in an extended effort to get that landfill report finished. If we don’t pay him in full, we could lose his services permanently. It’s something we asked him to do. I recall when we put the limit of $8,000, that was when we weren’t trying to get things, in a time crunch, done,” said Keel. “We gave him a list of things to work on over a longer period of time, that’s why I feel comfortable approving these bills.”

Voicing Dissent

Campbell provided her own objections to the invoice from Childress, stating that his report had not been clear or easy to understand and stating that the third-party accountant had threatened the governing body over the release of the report. 

During the December 1 meeting, both Nelson and Campbell asked Childress about wording in the report stating that it was intended for “outside parties”. Childress had informed the governing body that the wording was required by professional standards. He further stated that while the document was public record and could be requested as such, it was primarily intended to prevent the council or town hall staff from distributing the report with the implication that other parties could use it.

“That was meant to indicate that my goal is for us to be able to work cooperatively together and if it’s your intention to not honor and respect the best way you possibly can try to, I will immediately resign and you will most likely not have any other CPAs (Certified Public Accountant) working for you,” said Childress on December 1. 

“He threatened us, as a council and a Town, to release his report to the public,” said Campbell. “He said that no other CPA in the state would work with the Town of Saratoga if the report was released to the public.” 

Nelson added that he was “sensitive” to the amount that the Town of Saratoga had paid Childress in the time that he had been engaged by the governing body. According to the council member, the Town had paid Childress Accounting and Consulting a total of $94,830.69 since December 2019 including the amount up for approval. Legal notices from December 11, 2019 to December 23, 2020 validate Nelson’s claim.

“I’m not saying we don’t pay him for what he’s done. I think that’s maybe a bridge too far but I’m trying to maintain the precedent that we tried to set not exceeding $8,000 a month so that we’re not spending $100,000 a year on this,” said Nelson.

Nelson’s concern over the nearly $100,000 paid to Childress was similar to concerns expressed by Keel in February (see “How much will it cost?” on page 1 of the February 12 Saratoga Sun).

During the February 4 meeting, Nelson had stated he was concerned that the rest of the governing body did not want to continue the investigation into the Town’s finances while Keel and the late Councilmember Steve Wilcoxson stated they were concerned about the ultimate cost to the Town.

Following Nelson’s proposal to pay Childress up to $8,000 on the invoice presented to the governing body, Keel stated that it would potentially result in the third-party accountant unwilling to do further work for the Town of Saratoga until his invoice was paid in full, with a portion of that work being helping town hall staff prepare for the Fiscal Year 2019/2020 audit.

“I think I made my point. I hope that it gets conveyed that there’s not an endless pit of money here and that we’re trying to control our own checkbook,” said Nelson. “I think it is in the best interest of the town that we try to get as much wrapped up and done as we can. I’m disappointed that it’s costing us 10 grand a month this month and $100,000 a year.”

A restated motion to approve the accounts payable, including the $9,923.33 to Childress, passed unanimously. 

The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 7 p.m. on January 5, 2021 at Saratoga Town Hall.

 

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