The Menahga City Council extended apologies to former city employees Alvina Kytta and Char West after publicly criticizing their accounting work at the July 13 meeting.
Mayor Joan Liimatta read a statement at the July 26 special council meeting. She said, “Due to the confusion regarding our accounting department, I have done some investigating.” First, Liimatta discovered a second audit is not being done on the city’s 2018 finances.
“An audit has not been ‘issued’ or ‘closed.’ In other words, done. When I spoke with the auditing firm about a week ago, I was told the ‘bulk was done’ and in good shape,” Liimatta continued. “The auditing firm feels, since Alvina was the professional who entered the numbers for 2018, questions on same should be fielded by her. Much of the confusion we are in has been caused by the transition.”
Kytta was employed as the city’s deputy clerk during 2018 and closed out the year’s finances before leaving on Jan. 7, 2019. Abdo, Eick and Meyers Financial Solutions (AEMFS) was contracted to handle payroll, balance statements, billing, etc. from January through April after Kytta resigned. The city ultimately paid $32,323 for those financial services, plus another $4,218 payment in February 2019.
West and Kytta worked as interim staff until the city hired full-time replacements. The new city administrator, Curt Kreklau, and deputy clerk, Tanya Edwards, took over in June.
“There are numbers that needed to be plugged into 2018 book in 2019, as anyone who has reconciled a business checkbook would know,” Liimatta said. “The resistance to calling Alvina for answers and paying a new firm to do what she voluntarily said she would do, by a simple phone call or email, makes no sense. Alvina knows the system well and the city didn’t have these issues before the transition. Our accounting was close to impeccable before so many hands were in the system.”
Liimatta strongly suggested that changes should not be made to the city’s accounting system until Kreklau and Edwards have one year of employment under their belts. Earlier in July, Kreklau said the current accounting system should be abandoned and overhauled by AEMFS.
“Let’s not cost the city more money by refusing to let go or picking up personal animus,” Liimatta said. “Because an employee has a negative opinion of someone else is no reason to jump on the bandwagon or even believe reasons for that opinion. This small city is big business and there is no room for unprofessional attitudes. The gossip has to stop.”
On behalf of the city, Liimatta apologized to Kytta for “mentioning her as the reason for this quandary we find ourselves in. Alvina’s standard of work was never questioned in her entire time here. . .She trained the replacement and kept the windows of communication open, were she needed. The fact that she didn’t receive calls or emails for assistance does not lessen her excellent work while she was employed by the city.”
Both Kytta and West wrote lengthy letters to the council. West pointed out that she “reviewed and provided input to each correction/adjustment” that was made by Kytta, “which is required of the administrator in order to provide as many internal controls as possible due to the number of staff. So, I also take these accusations personally.”
West noted that both she and Kytta have accounting degrees and “numerous years of governmental accounting experience, which is currently not present in the City Administrative Office.” She suggested that, rather than paying AEMFS to revise the accounting system, the city provide accounting training for the new staff.
As for Kreklau’s suggestion to “streamline” the budget, West said told him which remaining budget lines needed to be entered and showed him the process. “The previously entered budget numbers were correct, but only about half of them entered,” she said, adding that Kreklau had not contacted her with any questions.
Council members Robyn Keranen, Karole Andreasen and Art Huebner said they favored hiring AEMFS, at a $35,000 price tag, so that anyone can understand the city’s bookkeeping.
Council member Tim Ellingson said Kytta’s accounting was understandable and complete, but since AEMFS changed it, it’s incomplete and confusing. He said he didn’t think rehiring AEMFS and paying them another $35,000 would “help the process.”
Ellingson pointed out that the council has never asked Kytta or Edwards to explain any figures. “At $65,000, that’s an awful expensive lesson to learn to dumb things down and learn to understand,” he said.
Edwards said the numbers aren’t wrong in the current accounting software, called Banyon, but could be coded differently to reflect revenues and expenses for each fund rather than being lumped into the general fund. She recommended purchasing new software, Small City and Town Accounting System (CTAS), at a cost of $300.
Kreklau said there are questions about budgets, investments and funds. An objective third-party opinion would be helpful, he said.
Liimatta suggested emailing any questions to Kytta and West. Kreklau said he would seek a more refined quote from AEMFS so the council can decide which options they would purchase.