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Proposal to Keep Wheeling’s Audit Local Voted Down

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliot, right, and City Manager Bob Herron consider matters at Tuesday’s council meeting.

WHEELING — A vote to have a local firm conduct Wheeling’s annual audit was narrowly defeated at Tuesday’s noon city council meeting.

Wheeling-based Kozicki, Hughes and Tinderhoof, PLLC has conducted the city’s audit for at least the past 18 years, City Clerk Brenda Delbert said. However, at an October finance committee meeting, the committee voted to employ Charleston-based Suttle and Stalnaker, PLLC.

Councilman David Palmer called a vote for an amendment to reinstate the Wheeling firm, calling it “wrong” to overlook the Kozicki firm for an out-of-town one. Palmer’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 4-3, with Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, Mayor Glenn Elliot and council members Wendy Scatterday and Melinda Koslik voting against the amendment. Palmer was joined by council members Ty Thorngate and Ken Imer.

“I cannot comprehend how we, as a committee, or we as a council, disregard a longstanding firm who’s paid our (business and occupation) tax, and will, in the future, pay our service fee,” Palmer said. “The Kozicki firm did our audits for over 18 years, along with other city-related audits, and now we want to kick them to the curb for a Charleston firm which has no ties to Wheeling?”

Palmer also pointed out that the Suttle firm charges $204 per hour for its auditing services, compared to the $133 hourly rate for the Wheeling firm.

The contract to Kozicki, as noted in the amendment, would have been bid out for $60,000, while the Suttle firm was bid for $50,000.

“I’m struggling to understand this. When we were elected three-plus years ago, there were banners downtown, urging people to ‘Live local! Shop local! Support local businesses!’ What kind of message are we sending when we take business away from a local firm, who’s done nothing wrong, in favor of an out-of-town firm?”

Scatterday, who is on the finance committee with Palmer and Thalman, said she suggested the Charleston-based firm to break a deadlock between the other two members.

“Vice Mayor Thalman made it very clear that the Kozicki, Hughes and Tinderhoof was not a firm he would be in favor of, Councilman Palmer strongly advocated that he (wanted) to approve that recommendation. Seeing that the discussion was at an absolute, dead stop — two folks in complete opposing viewpoints. In the interest of moving forward, and seeing that we had no way forward with what either of the parties were pursuing, I made the suggestion that we move on to one of the other options…”

Scatterday defended her vote, disagreeing at the notion that pulling out-of-town talent for the audit was a disservice to the people of Wheeling, and said that she felt a new perspective from a third party might be a good move.

“The decision made in the finance committee meeting was, in my opinion, good stewardship to benefit the people of Wheeling,” she added. “To ensure that having fresh eyes … and to have a different perspective after 18 years, I do believe that it is a service to the people of Wheeling.”

Council voted — along the same lines as the defeated amendment vote — to hire Suttle and Stalnaker, PLLC for the audit of the period between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.

In other matters, several resolutions were approved, granting funding to numerous improvements. Among them is $330,000 to WesBanco Arena for a new modular ice system, after its ice-making system failed in September. Also approved was $178,425 to Straub Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram of Glen Dale, to purchase six Dodge Chargers for the Wheeling Police Department.

“The police vehicle is essentially the police officer’s workspace and office,” Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said in a statement. “Officers must be provided the safest, highest performing and quality equipment, and the vehicle is at the top of the list.

The city also approved $75,789 to Doan Ford of Bellaire for a new dump truck, with a snow plow and salt spreader, and $199,708 to Atlantic Emergency Solutions of Manassas, Virginia, for a 2019 ambulance. Fire Chief Larry Helms said the city’s current unit is in “very poor” structural condition, and that the city responds to over 4,000 medical calls each year, placing the ambulance under a great deal of stress.

In other matters, Dr. Emily Ward was appointed to a three-year term on the Human Rights Commission.

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