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Council schedules last-minute meeting on water project audit

Analysis will be from 'ratepayer's perspective'


The Lake Oswego City Council on Thursday scheduled a Friday meeting to consider hiring Tiffany Couch to conduct a cost-benefit audit of the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership.

Couch, of Vancouver, Wash.-based Acuity Group, is a forensic auditor. The meeting will take place at 10 a.m. Friday at city hall, 380 A Ave.

It stems from a discussion Tuesday, when Councilor Karen Bowerman suggested the council consider hiring someone to analyze the water partnership projects.

Mayor Kent Studebaker sent the council an email Wednesday evening about the plan.

“Karen has found a very qualified person,” he wrote. Studebaker said he felt that although the city manager could hire her for $4,500 without the council’s approval, he wanted to take a vote Friday morning.

Interim City Manager Tom Coffee said he was unaware of whether any other city or county has performed a “cost-benefit audit” in the past or what that might entail, although he knew of plenty of cost-benefit analyses, which typically look at whether the benefits of a project outweigh the costs of doing the project, and financial audits, which involve “looking at the books.” He said more information about the hybrid form would likely be shared at the Friday meeting.

Bowerman said the audit would be done “from a fiscal point of view, and specifically from the ratepayer’s perspective.”

She said it would look at overall costs to date, general ledgers that accompany the information and rate structures from around 2006, to rates in 2012 and rates projected for the future.

“This isn’t anything unusual,” she said. “It’s what I would call in the category of good management, that would be information for the council at a point in time that I would call a turning point of a project of this magnitude.”

Bowerman, a former California business school dean, said she became familiar with Couch when part of a California CPA association but met her for the first time on Wednesday. She said it was clear Couch had worked with other Oregon cities and “she definitely knows whose job it is to do various things within a city.”

According to Acuity Group’s website, Couch has more than 14 years of experience in accounting, has conducted numerous financial investigations and has worked with local, state and federal officials in several embezzlement cases. She’s a nationally recognized speaker about fraud and forensic accounting and was honored in 2007 as one of Clark County, Wash.’s “Accomplished and Under 40” individuals, according to the website.

Bowerman said she’s confident Couch will be able to complete her analysis ahead of the council’s next meeting so long as she has the documents she needs on Friday.

Councilor Donna Jordan is out of town and won’t be able to attend the meeting but sent the council an email about it.

She wrote: “To have a council member who has voiced opposition to the (Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership) ‘select’ someone to do a cost-benefit analysis, for which there is no scope of work defined, no statement of qualified providers for the services desired and no agreement that this work will actually clarify the wisdom of our continuing this water project, is not worth of consideration.”

Later, Jordan wrote, “I can appreciate making every attempt to limit the exposure of our rate payers in the next few years, but I trust our professional team will work with council to bring in an efficient and cost-effective project. I certainly am not willing to make a decision based on the opinion of Ms. Couch, whoever she is and whatever her agenda may be.”

On March 5, the council will return to a discussion about water partnership projects, contracts and costs.




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