Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trent Williams, CPFA

Trent Williams, CPFA, who has a degree in music education, strums while city's finances go up in smoke

What is the meaning of the acronym CPFA that City Auditor Trent Williams attaches after his name when he signs official documents? Since CPFA has in it the letters CPA, which is an acronym for Certified Public Accountant, CPFA seems to imply that it stands for some kind of a Certified Public Accountant. But a CPA is an accountant who has been certified by and met the standards set for the profession by the state. But Trent Williams, CPFA, is not to my way of thinking the kind of accountant that the state of Ohio or any other public accrediting body would certify.

So who or what precisely is Trent Williams, CPFA? He is a Certified Public Finance Administrator, but he is NOT any kind of Certified Public Accountant, though there is an implicit attempt to suggest he is by including the letters CPA in his CPFA title.

The next important question is who certifies people to be CPFAs? It is not the state of Ohio or any public agency. It is a private group, APTUSC, or the Association of Public Treasurers of the Unites States and Canada. Founded in 1965 and having about 1,300 members, the APTUSC or APT, for short, offers the CPFA certification, but only to those who first join APT. The current individual membership fee is $409. Once the fee is paid, a member can then apply for CPFA certification, which presumably means paying another fee. This whole private certification business appears fee driven. As an additional expense, APT requires those getting a CPFA to attend the annual APT conference—$$$$.

The 2009 APT conference was held this past July in Spokane. The theme of the conference was “Effectively Managing the Peaks and Valleys of Your Financial Resources,” which is APT’s way of helping its members “to effectively manage their public operations and funds during the tumultuous times we are facing.” During his terms as auditor, Williams and the city of Portsmouth have had no financial peaks but quite a few financial valleys, the most recent of which looks more like the Grand Canyon than a valley. If Williams was able to attend the Spokane conference, let’s hope he got some ideas about dealing with the large city deficit he helped Mayor Kalb create and cover up.

You can go online and get any diploma or certification with a minimum of effort, sometimes no more effort than writing out a check to the private organization that is awarding you the diploma or certification. APT is not a diploma mill, but it does seem to operate within an ethical gray area. It offers “services” to its members, but the services seem to have as one of their goals the wringing of more money from members. The services APT offers include newsletters in which members can place a full page ad for a year at a cost of $3,000. Or members can publish an article in one of the APT’s magazine, at a cost of $500.That’s right, members pay APT for articles they write for APT magazines. APT has other money making services. It conducts six different workshops and seminars for which it charges participants $45 apiece. APT requires a 50 participant minimum to conduct these workshops and seminars, which comes out to a minimum of $2500 a seminar, plus travel and lodging expenses for the seminar leader.

The seminars cover six different subjects: Cash Flow Forecasting, Cash Handling, Debt Policy Development, Disaster Preparedness, Revenue Preparedness, and a workshop called “Stop that Fraud!” By attending these seminars, APT members get yet another certificate. It could be said APT is in the certification business. But isn’t there a disincentive to setting higher standards for certification? The lower the standards the more certificates they can issue and the more money they can make. It sounds like a conflict of interest. I suspect at least some CPFAs might be under-qualified for the positions they hold. I suspect at least some CPFAs are politicians who lack the appropriate education and relevant experience to qualify them for the offices they are elected or appointed to.


Trent Williams, CPFA, is a member not only of APT but also of GFOA, which is an older, national organization, founded in 1906. GFOA stands for Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. The GFOA has been awarding a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting (CAFR) since 1945, and, wouldn’t you know it, Trent Williams, CPFA, is a recipient of a CAFR, to which, naturally, there is a fee attached. $$$$ GFOA awarded Williams a CAFR for the city’s financial report for 2006, the same report which received low marks from the CPA firm that the city hired to do an audit of city finances. Williams had the chutzpa to pass along a copy of this CAFR for the 2006 financial report to the Ohio State Auditor’s office with the city’s 2007 financial report. The outside 2007 audit, in turn, reported a number of shortcomings in the way the city and Williams conducted financial business, including that old standby “significant deficiency in internal control over financial reporting.” In other words, Trent Williams, CPFA, got a certificate of excellence for a financial report that an outside CPA criticized for faulty financial reporting and Williams sends that certificate of excellence along with his next financial report, which contains more or the same faulty financial reporting. In addition, a separate letter dated June 30, 2008, was sent by the outside CPA to the city regarding its noncompliance with accepted standards of financial reporting.


I am considering creating an organization called GOOFOFFS, which would provide, for a fee of course, SNUFF Certificates for politicians trying to pass as auditors and financial officers, with SNUFF standing for, let's see . . . . How about: Sleazy, Negligent, Unscrupulous Financial Fuckoffs? The practice of awarding phony titles, certificates, and awards is par for the Tiger Woods PGA (Promiscuous Golfers Association) course in the public relations alternate reality that is America today. I recall an incompetent past president of Shawnee State University who, not long before he was pressured to resign, in 1998, got an award from some organization as an Outstanding Ohio Academic Administrator of the Year. It would not surprise me to hear that Trent Williams, CPFA, got a similar award for auditors, provided he or the city paid whatever fees are associated with such an award, and it would not surprise me either if there is public pressure for him to resign.

wms on steps
Trent Williams, CPFA, in front of Municipal Building