“It's a comfort zone.”
That’s what Camden City Council President Frank Moran told me of the city’s relationship with Bowman & Co. LLP for my Sunday story on apparent pay-to-play violations.
The city has contracted with Bowman for at least 15 years and Moran believes it’s fine to continue that relationship. The firm knows the city’s books inside and out and the city is moving in the right direction, Moran says.
But critics say that being in the comfort zone with auditors is a problem.
A 2008 New Jersey Comptroller’s Office report on government agencies’ use of auditing firms recommended that agencies be required to change auditors at least every 10 years.
The recommendation was based partly on a review that found that the longer a school district’s audit firm held the engagement, the greater the disparity between the state-contracted auditor and the district audit’s firm’s results.
The comptroller's office also recommended that government entities should not hire any audit firm that has made political contributions on a local or state level in the year preceding the audit engagement.
Camden has followed neither recommendation.
In the last year, 10 partners at South Jersey auditing firm Bowman & Company LLP have contributed at least $4,250 directly to Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd's re-election campaign. The contributions were scheduled in such a way as to make them count over two separate years, thus keeping the Bowman donors below the $2,500 aggregate limit set in the city's pay-to-play ordinance.
But both the 2012 and 2013 payments were made in the middle of the bid review process, raising concerns in the Comptroller’s Office.
The cozy relationship extends even further than just political campaign contributions and contract payments.
“Redd for Mayor,” Redd’s reelection campaign, paid Bowman $250 in 2012 for campaign accounting services, according to her April 2012 campaign finance report.
The Leaders Fund, a South Jersey Democratic political action committee which helps various local candidates, also paid Bowman $500 in 2011 for accounting services.
Redd has not returned my call for comment but her spokesman Robert Corrales has said that she was not involved in the audit contract decisions.