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County audit suspended in flap over approval

A routine audit of the Erie County Comptroller's Office was suspended last week after legislators discovered the contract for the accounting firm doing the work was never submitted to them for approval.
County Comptroller David J. Shenk submitted a request Thursday to the County Legislature to hire the Bonadio Group for up to $8,000 to conduct a quality review of the office's Division of Audit and Control.
But the request came after the accounting firm had already worked on the project for three days - despite a requirement by the County Charter that contracts be approved by the County Legislature.
"The guidance that we had received - which was obviously a breakdown in communications somewhere - was that because it was under $10,000, it didn't have to go in front of the [Legislature]," Shenk said.
But four legislators who are members of the Legislature's Republican Caucus questioned why Shenk, a Democrat, allowed the accountants to start working on the review before the contract was approved.
"The awarding of lucrative professional services contracts in a manner that ignores process is something we find inappropriate," wrote the four legislators, Minority Leader John J. Mills and Legislators Kevin R. Hardwick, Lynne M. Dixon and Joseph C. Lorigo, in a letter to Shenk.
The Comptroller's Office, according to county documents, requested proposals earlier this year from accounting firms for the work and received six responses, including a proposal from the Bonadio Group. Shenk said a deputy comptroller worked with the county's Division of Purchase to issue the request for proposals and was told by the director of purchasing that the contract wouldn't need Legislature approval.
Money for the contract was included in the 2012 budget for the Comptroller's Office.