None of the improprieties suggested in Wednesday’s Jefferson County Commission took place, former Jefferson County Chief Financial Officer John Henry told Birmingham Watch today.
Henry said County Manager Tony Petelos and Commission Finance Chairman Joe Knight knew of his advice concerning a possible switch from Warren Averett to Banks Finley as the county’s primary auditor.
Commissioners had a sometimes-heated discussion Wednesday about a resolution to extend for three years the county’s contract with Warrant Averett, a white-owned accounting firm. The discussion included the suggestion that a deal had been brokered to change to the Black-owned firm Banks Finley.
Commissioner Lashunda Scales said during the meeting that extending the contract to the white-owned firm was a throwback to the days when the county did not consider racial and gender diversity in its hiring practices. Commissioners ultimately passed a substitute motion by Scales to reduce the extension to one year, at which point a change could be considered.
After the meeting, Scales and Commission President Jimmie Stevens were observed in a heated discussion about what transpired during the session. Stephens told Scales that he felt she implied that he was being racist in not immediately considering the change in auditors.
Henry, who is now the chief financial officer of the American Public Transportation Association in Washington, D.C., today contacted Birmingham Watch to respond to the commission discussion.
“What was stated (in Wednesday’s meeting) was inaccurate because Tony (Petelos) knew about a possible transition. (Commissioner) Joe Knight knew about a possible transition,” Henry said.
“There was a memo that I sent to Tony and Joe on my way out in January, saying, ‘Hey, we can transition from Warren Averett to Banks Finley. Obviously, you’ve still got to do all of the contracts and stuff. I don’t sign contracts, obviously, but they would still have to do all of the commission stuff that you would normally do.
“But that’s something that y’all need to start thinking about, if that’s what y’all want to do,’” Henry recounted. “That was back in January, January 21, I believe.”
Birmingham Watch obtained a copy of a document titled Transition Material. In the final paragraph, Henry lays out a path for a change in auditors.
“The process of transitioning the financial statement auditor from Warren Averett to Banks Finley will begin this year,” the document reads. “New engagement letters (contracts) will be sent to Finance for execution. Warren Averett will complete the 2019 audit and Banks Finley will begin with the 2020 audit (new engagement letter). Warren Averett will execute the SEFA and the CDBG Audit beginning in 2020 (new engagement letter).”