Mayor’s audit question leads to debate

PHILIPPI – Philippi Mayor Jerry Mouser’s letters to the Philippi Municipal Building Commission about four year’s worth of non-completed audits led to a heated public discussion Tuesday – with several officials bringing up the subject of impeachment.

Public officials aired their grievances regarding the issue during two meetings conducted separately Tuesday – a Philippi City Council work session and a joint meeting between council members and the Building Commission.

Jeremy Drennen, director of finance for Philippi, said during the joint meeting that it is not unusual for entities to not be audited every year. He said that sometimes it is not the fault of the entity, but rather of state delays in the audit process.

Dean Springer, who currently serves as the president of the Philippi/Barbour County Airport Authority, said the Building Commission can make a formal request for the state auditor’s office to perform an audit.

“I’m saying that going five years without an audit, to me, is unbelievable,” Springer said.

According to Mouser and Drennen, the last audit for the Building Commission took place in 2009. Drennen said that bids are currently being sought from certified public accountants to complete the audits, and that the audits should be finished by March.

He also said the Building Commission’s financial figures have to be included on the city’s audits or it will result in an adverse opinion from the state.

“You can include the figures without them being audited,” Drennen said, adding that while the figures exist in the city’s audits, they are not actually audited, just recorded.

The inclusion of those figures cannot serve as a substitute for an audit. As a separate entity formed by the Philippi City Council, the Building Commission is required to have a separate audit, Drennen and Mouser said.

Mouser wrote several letters to Building Commission Chairman Howard Swick between Oct. 8 and Dec. 12. Swick said Tuesday he felt the Building Commission was being targeted by Mouser through letters written without the consent of Philippi City Council. Swick said it seemed to him as if Mouser picked the Building Commission out of a hat and began targeting it.

“Is Council going to move and do something about the mayor firing off these letters?” Swick said.

Councilman Ed Larry said during the joint meeting that he personally felt City Council needed to do something about the letters. He said he was sure it would be addressed.

“If Council can say ‘do away with the mayor,’ then why in the world can’t Congress get rid of our president?” Building Commission member David Runion said, adding the Building Commission members are appointed and can be removed any time. “You can’t do away with an elected person.”

Swick said that wasn’t entirely true.

“There’s impeachment procedures that allow you to do away with elected officials if they are operating outside of the state codes,” Swick said.

After that discussion, the joint meeting was adjourned.

Mouser did not attend the joint meeting, but told The Inter-Mountain later Tuesday evening he wasn’t worried about the impeachment talk.

“You have to do something criminally wrong (to be impeached),” Mouser said. “They can try it if they want to.”

Regarding the letters, Mouser said that Larry also wrote an unrelated letter without consulting council members.

“He thinks it’s okay for him to do it, not for me,” Mouser said.

Mouser said that he requested a financial statement from the Building Commission, but that the statement he received was vague. For example, he said that one line item showed costs for “professional services,” but did not specify what services or where the money was spent.

Mouser said he wrote letters to the Building Commission, the West Virginia Ethics Commission and the West Virginia State Auditor’s office about the audit issue.

During a separate Philippi City Council work session conducted after the joint meeting Tuesday, Mouser and Larry got into a heated exchange.

At the City Council meeting, Mouser presented a letter to Larry which he said was about his intent to file a civil lawsuit if the Building Commission’s audit issue is not resolved. He said he is consulting his lawyer for an opinion on the matter.

After reading the letter, Larry said, “How are you going to do business with the city with this hanging over everything?”

Mouser said that his issue was with the Building Commission, not City Council.

“I am the chief executive officer of Philippi and I have a right to find out what the financial situations are of committees as well,” Mouser said.

After the meeting, Mouser read the letter aloud to the Inter-Mountain during an interview.

“First of all, I do not need your permission to write to the Ethics Commission or anyone else or agency in the performance of my duties as chief executive officer of the city of Philippi or as a citizen,” Mouser read.

The mayor said the financial concerns and questions regarding the Building Commission were brought to his attention by current and past commission members as well as by a Philippi resident.

“They come to me and they expressed those concerns,” Mouser said. “What am I supposed to do, ignore them?”