After hiring a new firm as county auditor, some County Council members say they were upset to learn that the firm agreed days before their vote to pay the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $20 million to settle potential malpractice claims arising from the firm's audits of thefailed Silverado Banking, Savings & Loan Association.
The Wall Street Journal reported July 5 that Coopers & Lybrand, the firm the council hired, denied any wrongdoing in the Silverado case but agreed tothe payment to the FDIC to head off a lawsuit.
The council voted 5-1 July 9, with one member absent, to select the New York-based company as the county's new auditor. The firm will replace Coughlin & Mann, a local firm that has served the county for 17 years.
Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott was absent from the July 9 meeting. Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, cast the opposing vote.
Last week, controversy arose after Councilman Philip J. Barker, D-District F, sent a memo to other council members urging themto discuss the issue again. Barker said in the memo that he was unaware of the settlement payment when he cast his vote.
The contract with the new firm was signed by council President Jeffrey D. Wilson and council attorney H. Edward Andrews III on July 16. Andrews said the signing was "a formality" and that a contract existed from the timeof the council's approval.
Barker and Wagner also expressed concern that the written contract with Coopers & Lybrand was rushed; handwritten changes were inserted before the contract was signed.
"I'm thoroughly disgusted with the way the process went," Wagner said.
Barker said he is "not suggesting anything illegal or unethical was done, but I think a question should be asked and I think it will be."
Wilson said he and several other council members were aware of thesettlement before the July 9 vote. He characterized Coopers & Lybrand's settlement as a business decision.
"It didn't raise any ethical questions in my mind," said Wilson.
"I'm surprised at the extentto which this issue has been raised. The savings and loan crisis is so big that many big companies were touched. It's so widespread, it'ssort of like athlete's feet. They settled it so they could go out and conduct business," he said.