Mayor Tab Townsell is proceeding with plans to hire Thomas and Thomas LLP Certified Public Accountants to perform an audit on city finances.

The audit comes in response to concerns among several aldermen who have said that no further financial decisions should be made until the balance of the city’s various accounts and funds can be known to a certainty. 

Miscalculated fund estimates in 2009 and 2010 led the Conway City Council to overspend from the general fund reserve and sanitation fund reserve, resulting in the need for sweeping budget cuts earlier this month and the proposal that $2 million in capital purchases approved out of the sanitation fund reserve be shifted to a 5-year financing arrangement, thereby restoring the sanitation reserve fund.

All aldermen except for Mary Smith voted on Tuesday to authorize Townsell to start the process of reaching an agreement with Thomas and Thomas to provide these numbers. Smith said during the meeting that she felt Townsell’s association with Thomas and Thomas principal Randy Milligan could be seen as a conflict of interest.

“I don’t want to put any more doubt in anybody’s mind,” Smith said on Thursday, adding that she would rather have selected an auditing firm through a public request for bids, “even if it took two weeks.”

Townsell said that he and Milligan were members of the same University of Central Arkansas fraternity, but weren’t enrolled there at the same time.

“I know him through alumni events,” Townsell said on Thursday.

Townsell said that he decided to propose that Thomas and Thomas conduct the audit because he was told by Milligan that accountants could get to work quickly and that “Randy’s firm ... is somewhat familiar with our processes and our people.”

Townsell said that Milligan worked with the city in 2003 with a project involving the Government Accounting Standards Board work, a national organization that Townsell said “determines how we keep our books.”

Smith and Alderman Mark Vaught had proposed prior to Tuesday’s meeting that a legislative audit be conducted, but Vaught said he was told that the legislative auditors were “tied up” with audits, many involving economic stimulus programs.

Vaught said on Thursday that he still wanted a legislative audit to be conducted, but that it would be several months away.

The city also has a regularly scheduled audit to be conducted this spring by JPMS Cox PLLC Accountants and Consultants, and Townsell’s assistant, Jack Bell, said on Thursday that whatever work Thomas and Thomas did would be double-checked at this point.

Their work will also be double-checked by an audit commission authorized on Tuesday. This commission will be headed by Alderman David Grimes, though what other aldermen will compose it has yet to be decided.

Townsell said that the Conway City Council could meet early next week to review the audit proposal from Thomas and Thomas.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at joe.lamb@thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)