Task force discusses audit recommendations on purchase practices Group favors hiring coordinator, requiring bids on all professional services

January 13, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Taking the first step in changing the Columbia Association's controversial purchasing practices, a task force discussed an auditor's recommendations last night.

In a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes, four members of the Columbia Council purchasing task force and Rafia Siddiqui, the association's chief financial officer, discussed about half a dozen recommendations in a $50,000 audit by Raffa & Associates P.C. of Washington.

"I think it was very productive," said Alex Hekimian, chairman of the task force. "We got started on a lot of the issues and weighing the recommendations. We are using the audit as a base to start our discussions."

The task force favored hiring a purchasing coordinator to oversee the huge homeowners association's purchasing practices, requiring sealed bids for purchases exceeding $10,000 and seeking bids for all professional services, including legal services.

The task force quickly dismissed the auditor's recommendation to use purchasing cards -- similar to credit cards -- for purchases of less than $1,500, saying that could lead to abuse.

"The credit card only simplifies the ordering process, not which vendor you choose," said Jean Friedberg, a council member from Hickory Ridge. "It's like having a gigantic petty cash fund that people are just putting their hands into all the time."

The Columbia Council, which oversees the CA's $49 million budget, ordered the audit in May after a Sun investigation revealed questionable spending practices. In a 27-page report, the auditor recommended new policies designed to save money and avoid the appearance of favoritism in purchasing goods and services.

It is uncertain when the council, made up of elected representatives from Columbia's 10 villages, will implement any of the recommendations. The task force will make its report to the council by next month.

After the audit began in August, some council members pledged to take a more active role in managing the association.

Some council members and CA staffers favored a purchasing coordinator to oversee spending.

The task force backed a quarterly audit of CA spending, as recommended by the auditor.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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