By Benjamin Price, News-Leader

Nassau County’s Clerk of Court has called for the county to hire a new outside auditor.

Though the county’s current contract with the Fernandina Beach firm Farmand, Farmand & Farmand does not end until March, Clerk of Court John Crawford said Wednesday he feels a change is necessary to establish a “new level of accountability.”

Crawford sent a letter to Nassau County Commission Chair Ansley Acree Wednesday requesting the commission put this year’s audit out for bid.

The recommendation comes less than a week after Farmand presented last year’s audit to the county. That audit was delayed for months due to the discovery that more than $1 million had been embezzled from the clerk’s office.

Former clerk’s office employee Julie Mixon confessed to the theft, and the audit was put on hold while state law enforcement performed an investigation.

The investigation found Mixon had been stealing from the office for years, unbeknownst to Crawford’s predecessors or Farmand, Farmand & Farmand.

In order to take steps to change the county’s “culture of accountability,” Crawford said he was requesting a new auditing firm immediately.

“The only way we can solve the problem is change the culture,” he said. “(The county) needs a new auditing firm and they need it today.”

Farmand has performed the county’s annual audits for more than two decades.

Crawford would not comment when asked if his request was because Farmand failed to catch the theft or discover missing funds.

“It’s reflective of my deep feeling,” he said. “If you’re going to create a higher level of accountability, you’ve got to change an entire culture that’s existed the past number of years.”

The county has hired a separate auditing firm that specializes in embezzlement to investigate the theft.

Crawford said that effort could be ongoing for a while, while the firm attempts to establish the extent of the theft.

He did not expect an estimate that $1.1 million was stolen to change dramatically.

“We’re still unraveling this whole mess,” Crawford said. “The special audit is identifying who is owed what amounts of money, how much was taken from the commission, the clerk’s office, the state and in what amounts. It’s a complex puzzle.”

Acree said Thursday she did not want to comment on whether she or the county commission supported Crawford’s recommendation to terminate the contract.

However, she did say his recommendation was “premature.” It was her understanding Farmand was still working on some aspects of the audit as of Thursday afternoon, she said.

“To my knowledge the audit is not complete and it was premature for Mr. Crawford to release a recommendation to the board,” she said.

A.B. Farmand said Thursday he was also unaware of Crawford’s letter or any intention not to renew the contract.

He added he was proud of the services the firm has provided to Nassau County for more than two decades.

“We have enjoyed working with Nassau County the past 25 years,” Farmand said. “During that period of time we have always worked in a professional manner in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and generally accepted auditing standards.”