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Keeping ‘Buy Local’ in Mind

Kozicki, Hughes and Tinderhoof, PLLC, has handled annual audits for Wheeling city government for 18 years. To date, we have heard no complaint about the firm from city officials.

Yet on Tuesday, by a narrow 4-3 vote, City Council decided to switch to a Charleston accountant, Suttle and Stalnaker, PLLC. Mayor Glenn Elliott, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman and council members Melinda Koslik and Wendy Scatterday voted to do so. Councilmen Ken Imer, David Palmer and Ty Thorngate voted to keep the Kozicki firm.

Palmer was highly critical of the decision, noting the Kozicki firm pays city taxes and fees, has handled auditing for 18 years, “and now we want to kick them to the curb for a Charleston firm which has no ties to Wheeling?”

And, Palmer added, the Kozicki firm charges $133 per hour, while the Charleston accountant’s rate is $204 an hour. The annual audit contract, however, would have been for $60,000 with Kozicki but will total $50,000 with Suttle and Stalnaker.

“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?” Palmer asked.

Scatterday responded that she believes having a different accounting firm look at the city’s books “is a service to the people of Wheeling.”

She added that during a previous meeting of council’s finance committee, Thalman “made it very clear” he would not favor the Kozicki firm.

Because discussions of such matters often are held privately, it is unlikely Wheeling residents will ever know the full story of why the change was made.

This is not the first time the current council has turned away from Wheeling businesses. In February 2017, council members agreed to pay a Colorado company $33,000 to design a new website for city government, despite the fact a well-known local firm submitted a bid for less than half that. At the time, Thorngate said that, “while a local company may have been cheaper, (the Colorado designer) ranked the highest among all of our criteria.”

While there are situations in which out-of-town bidders are preferable, council members should be able to explain clearly why that is so. Regarding the accounting services, three of the seven people voting on the matter were not convinced.

Palmer is right: In most situations, Wheeling officials should look with favor upon local businesses — which support not just the municipality but also the county and the school system. That should be kept firmly in mind when council members vote on city business.

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