Friday, December 13, 2013
By Ann S. Kim email@example.com
PORTLAND – A Casco woman attempting to probe the town's finances had her day in court Wednesday as her Freedom of Access Act case went to trial.
Jeannine Oren, who was a member of Casco's finance committee when the dispute began, has sued the town and town officials over access to the work papers of the firm that performed the required annual audit for the town. The town maintains that the papers she's seeking do not belong to the town and are not public records as defined in state statute.
The trial took place over about three hours in Cumberland County Superior Court. The town manager, a few members of the Board of Selectmen and a representative of the auditing firm were among the witnesses called to testify. Oren represented herself in the matter.
The suit has its roots in findings by Purdy Powers & Company, the Portland-based firm that conducted the town audit. The firm wrote in a letter to town officials that its audit of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, turned up three "material misstatements" in the accounts receivable, accounts payable and special revenue funds accounts that had since been corrected. The letter did not further describe the misstatements.
"I have a general concern that there are -- and continues to be -- improper accounting practices in the town of Casco," Oren said during a break in the trial.
Oren, a former television journalist who worked under her maiden name Lauber, is seeking the auditor's worksheets for the fiscal years that ended on June 30 in 2008, 2009 and 2010. She asked for the documents verbally during finance committee meetings, including one where Town Manager David Morton said he would have provided them if she had not filed a formal Freedom of Access Act request, and in a couple of e-mail messages in April 2011. In 2011, Oren made another request by e-mail and the Board of Selectmen voted against obtaining the documents she sought.
Oren argued that although the town is maintaining that the documents belong to the firm, they have been released to town residents in the past.
Morton testified that there may have been confusion about what was actually meant by "working papers." He differentiated between supporting statements and the actual "working papers" of the auditors.
Richard Emerson of Purdy Powers said the working papers are proprietary to the firm. He said the auditing process involves some testing and processes that they don't want clients to know about.
"This isn't a shell game here," said Natalie Burns, the town's attorney. "There is a legitimate, professional reason for not disclosing these papers." It was not clear when Justice Nancy Mills would issue her decision.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: