Sec-Treasurer Reports Consultant Hired to Improve Practices Within LCO Accounting Dept.
By Joe Morey
The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (TGB) entered into an agreement with KOSO Stategies back in October of 2021, an accounting consulting and training firm that specializes in providing on-demand training in Indian Country.
The company was retained by the TGB to help restructure and improve practices within the LCO Accounting Department.
According to LCO Secretary-Treasurer Tweed Shuman, since contracting with Ernest Vargas and KOSO Strategies, things are already moving in the right direction.
“As Secretary-Treasurer, I’m really working with Mr. Vargas to improve our accounting processes by promoting more efficient practices to eliminate redundancy. Our compliance department, grants department and accounting manager are working more in sync to help streamline and capture all grant opportunities in timely drawdowns of funding,” Shuman said.
Vargas is one of the founding directors of the company. He stated his company is doing an Accounting Department assessment.
“We are going to do accounting training and policy revision to avoid any overlapping of accounting practices. We are also providing training of MIP software set up and use,” Vargas noted.
KOSO’s mission statement says they “Help light the fire in people and organizations everywhere through our consulting and training services that create sustainability in tribal communities.” KOSO means Fire in Shoshone.
Vargas explained that the current structure of the accounting department includes the Chief Financial Officer, Bill Cadotte, who recently was promoted to the position from Comptroller after the resignation of Dulcie Rae Wolfe on Nov. 2. Vargas said Cadotte runs the day-to-day operations of the department. Another consultant of the department is Shawn McCabe, who works out of his offices in Arizona. According to Vargas, McCabe is responsible for audit preparation for the Tribe.
Other positions within the department working directly below Cadotte include Comptroller (which is currently vacant), Chief Accounting Officer and Accounting Manager positions are currently being filled within by Angela Johnson and Ashleigh Taylor.
Vargas said the current organizational structure is working.
Vargas noted. “Also, Rose Wilson is the Compliance Director with a strong compliance team that was reporting to the Comptroller, but now is report directly to the CFO, which was an important change. Being her own department gives her more independence.”
Vargas explained this was one of the weaknesses of the department. He added another weakness as drawdowns needing to actually be drawn down as the federal funds are being expended by the Tribe.
“The Accounting Department needs all the access to the federal systems to do the drawdowns and the reporting,” Vargas said. “These are significant weaknesses I see. You guys have a very strong team, but we need to get a method on a monthly basis. We need to clarify roles of who should be doing the drawdowns.”
Shuman added it’s important there is checks and balances by having in place two separate persons, one to do the actual drawdowns and another to post the transaction.
According to Shuman, KOSO’s evaluation of the department aims to support the accounting staff and the organization in their role of contributing to the Tribe’s success. In order to achieve this aim, KOSO Strategies will provide a strategic and operational evaluation of the Tribe’s Accounting Department. Specifically, KOSO will collect organizational data, document the current status of the Accounting Department’s operations and provide a recommended plan for the future. The evaluation also serves to highlight the relationships between finance activities and the organization and the challenges faced by the accounting staff.
Vargas said of the audit preparations, McCabe will have the 2020 audits completed by Dec. 31st and that the 2021 audit will be completed by June 30th of 2022.
“Our intention is to stay on track with this,” Vargas stated.
Ernest Vargas, Jr. is a descendent of the Tumpisa Shoshone people and Founding Director at KOSO Strategies LLC. He grew up hunting and fishing in the Owens Valley living on the Bishop Paiute Shoshone Reservation.
According to the KOSO Strategies website, “He has 20 years of experience working in Indian Country and is currently the Executive Director of Administration for the Wilton Rancheria. Prior to working with Wilton Rancheria, he spent the last 7 years as the Tribal Administrator and previous 2 years as the Finance Director for the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. As the Tribal Administrator, Mr. Vargas developed an organizational culture of success and community empowerment through the creation and implementation of creative programs and services designed to strengthen families and help remove social and economic barriers of the Tribal Membership. His vision of Nation Building was instilled in him by his mentors and believes that in order to create strong Tribal communities, you have to empower individuals to thrive.
“Previous to his roles at Shingle Springs and Wilton Rancheria, Mr. Vargas was a Financial Advisor at Waddell and Reed and was the Finance Director for the Owens Valley Career Development Center. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Finance from UMUC.”
Vargas said he is happily married with two daughters and has a 4 year old grandson. He said his family will also be welcoming a granddaughter in February.
During his free time he enjoys hunting, fishing, and attending his daughter’s sports activities.
Shuman acknowledged the great team in the Accounting Department as well, identifying employees and stating they all work hard to accomplish the Tribe’s goals.
They include several compliance specialists; Elissa DeCora, Leah Corbine and Darien Carley. Also, operating under the Comptroller are Christi Quaderer (financial analyst), Kyleigh Barber (risk manager), James Fleming (office admin), Brittney Foster (purchasing manager), Beckie Isham (fixed asset specialist), Amanda Kingfisher (receiving/inventory specialist), Casandra Carley (purchasing specialist), Elaine Thayer (travel specialist). And under the CAO are Angela Johnson (senior accounting specialist), Ashleigh Taylor (treasury specialist), Renee Bresette (accounts payable manager), Bonnie Corbine (accounts payable clerk), Joanne Graves (accounts receivable specialist), Jean Martin (payroll manager), and Helen Perry (payroll specialist).
Shuman also stated at the completion of the evaluation by KOSO Strategies, they will provide recommendations on the following: Accounting Department Organizational Structure; Accounting Department Functions and Workflow; Accounting Department Competencies and Skills learning program; Accounting Department technical support which will include accounting department oversight and mentorship, provide audit preparation services including the reconciling the trial balance to the audited financial statements, assist with the reconciliation and drawdown of grants receivable including providing training on how to identify grant receivable balances, provide guidance in regard to American Rescue Plan / CARES Act funding received by the Tribe, provide guidance and recommendations regarding appropriate expenditures, programs, and services, provide additional services and guidance as requested by the Tribe.