QUEENSBURY - The battle for a county contract which became an intensely political issue has been resolved for now, but a visceral aura of distrust still lingered this week.
Queensbury professional accountant Richard DiNolfo rescinded his request Feb. 11 for consideration for a lucrative external audit contract with Warren County Wednesday. But, even upon DiNolfo's removal from consideration, political innuendo abounded this week, as supervisors continued to question the motives of the county treasurer's office.
Two entities sought the auditing contract - DiNolfo and statewide municipal finance firm the Bonadio Group. Warren County Treasurer Francis O'Keefe - one of the few county Democratic officials - staunchly supported Bonadio even though their $121,000 proposal was $6,000 more than DiNolfo's bid.
"We have to do our due diligence when a low bidder is denied," Warren County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee Chairman Dan Stec said. "This board has every right to question the facts in this case."
Many supervisors believe that the county's request for proposals for the auditing work was rigged in order to assure that Bonadio received the contract and DiNolfo did not.
Eighteen of the 20 members of the county board of supervisors are Republicans.
"We were told that the RFP for this contract was identical to the ones used over the last several years," said Queensbury Supervisor-at-Large Bill VanNess. "I requested drafts of the RFPs for 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 for comparison -the current one has several differences - all I ask is that everyone is up-front and honest, which didn't happen here."
The primary difference between the current Request for Proposal and those from recent years is that the current one requires 10 years of "single-audit" experience, or external auditing of a municipality that receives a considerable amount of federal stipends. Many of the federally mandated techniques for a single audit, however have only been in existence since 2004.
"We certainly should have asked more questions and did a better job with this process," Stec said to DiNolfo. "I am not comfortable with the idea that a department may have intentionally slanted the selection process."
Throughout the process, O'Keefe has vehemently denied any bias in the RFP, stating that such requirements as peer review and use of internal staff only are necessary to assure a credible audit.
DiNolfo, a longtime auditor with the state Comptroller's Office, planned on hiring outside staff to contribute to the audit report. Bonadio will use only in-house staff.
"I think it is clear that there is only one party here who is qualified for the job," Glens Falls Supervisor-at-Large Bill Kenny said. "A peer review is a necessary requirement for anyone looking to do a job like this."
DiNolfo has not been peer reviewed as a private CPA.
With the controversy surrounding the choice of auditor, county supervisors amended their offer, cutting the auditing contract to one year rather than three. The Bonadio group agreed to the change..
Supervisors said that this will give them time to provide proper oversight of the RFP process and make sure any bias in steering the contract to a particular party was eliminated.
"No one has ever said Bonadio has done anything wrong," Stec said. "All of the discussions were internal to the county - I get nervous when I am told one thing and find out that it is untrue."