CEDAR HILLS — The City Council on Tuesday approved hiring an external auditor to look into the mayor's handling of the city's golf course finances.
The vote came after nearly all of the individuals who spoke during the public comment period of the regular meeting voiced their admiration and respect for city leadership, often drawing applause from the 40 to 50 people in attendance.
But a coalition of residents, known as Cedar Hills Citizens for Responsible Government, remain committed to their cause of ousting Mayor Eric Richardson and initiating an external audit of the city's financial management and came away with another small victory.
Prior to Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Trent Augustus posted a message online urging citizens to attend the meeting and voice their support for the city, its leadership and its internal auditing procedures. His request appeared to be answered as speaker after speaker took to the microphone to simultaneously laud the direction of the city and dismiss what they described as the "appalling" actions of a vocal minority upset over the outcome of recent municipal elections.
But former councilman and coalition member Ken Cromar said an independent audit is the only way to correct the city's finances and restore public trust.
"An internal audit is absolutely inadequate," he said before the meeting. "If we don't have a forensic audit we will never get to the bottom of this."
The Council ultimately voted 3-1 to approve a $7,600 external audit, more narrow in scope than the coalition had requested but still a departure from standard internal proceedures, Cromar said after the meeting.
The meeting was fittingly held at Cedar Hills' new recreation center, which along with the golf course that surrounds it is a primary source of opposition for critics of city leadership. Some residents claim Richardson improperly subsidized the golf course with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to make it appear profitable.
Cromar said the audit will only look at the allegation involving the golf course accounts.
Residents Paul Sorensen and Ken Severn filed 46 pages of allegations and supporting documents in 4th District Court in January, asking the court to investigate whether the city officials' actions constitute misdemeanor neglect or misconduct.
Compounding the controversy, federal prosecutors filed a complaint against Richardson on May 2, accusing him and a business partner of engaging in a fraudulent $2 million investment scheme, independent of city business. That same day, three Cedar Hill city officials resigned from their posts.
Many speakers at Tuesday's meeting referenced the federal investigation, emphasizing that Richardson is innocent until proven guilty. They accused the coalition of sensationalizing the allegations in an attempt to smear Richardson's name.
During the public hearing, Cromar also accused city leaders of withholding access to public records, specifically personal email accounts used for city business, and said he would be taking the issue before state officials later in the week.
"State law says you cannot do personal emails and not provide those to the city as public record," he said.
At the time of his resignation, then City Manager Konrad Hildebrandt said in a statement that his stepping down was an attempt to end the persecution against the city and allow city staff to focus on more important issues.
But former City Recorder Kim E. Holindrake has said she was forced out of her position.
"I was asked to resign my position as city recorder. There was no cause to release me; it was political," Holindrake said in a prepared statement.