Rumford taking corrective action to ensure hiring licensed auditors

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RUMFORD — Town Manager Carlo Puiia told selectmen Thursday night that corrective actions are under way to protect Rumford from unlicensed auditors doing the town’s books.

That issue came to light recently when it was learned that Harold Blake, the man who has been auditing Rumford’s books for the past two decades, may not have been properly licensed to do some of that work.

When addressing selectmen Thursday night, Puiia didn’t mention Blake by name. Rather than have selectmen address the issue, Puiia recommended tabling discussion on the agenda item. He was worried about possible litigation.

“Based on a recommendation, for legal reasons I’m going to ask that the board table that tonight just to protect the town from any liability,” he said.

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Last year when Blake audited the town’s books, Puiia said he “is alleged to be not licensed.”

The accountancy firm license held by Blake of Hallowell, who owned Harold E. Blake Accounting Services, was revoked in 2009 by order of the Maine Board of Accountancy, in a two-vote move suspending that license back in November 2003.

Blake has continued to present himself to his clients as fully licensed to audit their accounts.

The company’s license revocation stems from a poor peer review of accounting practices in 2002. In 2008, when Blake applied to the Board of Accountancy to renew his company’s license, the review board discovered that Blake never provided required documentation that he had completed a successful peer review following the poor performance reported in 2002, which was required in his 2003 renewal application and all subsequent applications.

Between 2007 and 2009, Blake was warned by letter at least three times by the New England Peer Review Program to provide the required documentation and did not comply.

In a 2009 order of the state licensure board, Blake’s applications of 2003 and 2008 to renew his firm’s license were denied.

That decision also noted that in February 2008, Blake’s failure to comply with the paperwork requirement prompted the New England Peer Review Program to report his refusal to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which requires a successful peer review for membership.

Blake acknowledges that his firm’s license was revoked in 2009, but he’s relying on state law in Title 30-A that allows any “qualified public accountant” to perform a municipal audit.

He also disputes the 2009 finding of the Board of Accountancy and insists he’s not breaking the law.

Puiia didn’t go into those details. Instead, he thanked community activist Candice Casey for ferreting out the information and alerting him.

“I want to thank resident Candice Casey for the initiative and diligence on following through on that because of her concerns,” Puiia said.

Since then, he said he’d contacted Douglass and the Board of Accountancy, this year’s current Rumford auditor RHR Smith and Co. of Buxton, and town lawyer Thomas Carey.

“We’re taking corrective actions to make sure that the town is protected,” he said.

Puiia said he has started creating a new policy for Rumford that will guide the Finance Committee with assistance from his office.

The committee nominates and votes to select the town auditor.

Puiia said that on an annual basis the committee will now apply for necessary documents, such as a copy of the auditor’s current license and peer review letters.

He said he’s also drafted a notification letter to be sent to the state auditor and other pertinent documents.

“So these are a few of the things that we are putting in place and there may be more,” Puiia said.

He said he expects that selectmen will get to weigh in on the matter when he places the topic on the agenda for their next regular meeting Thursday, May 19.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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