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The auditor's new clothes

The “Ordinance Governing the Role and Oversight of the City Auditor and the City Internal Audit Department” that sailed through Council this week doesn’t fix the problem, says District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, one of two lonely nay votes. “It just brings more people into the problem.”

Citizens, specifically. The new law adds two citizens to the three council members who oversee the City auditor — a nebbishy position that mushroomed into a dark cloud of unexpected fury and destruction last spring, when former auditor Pete Gonzales was shown the door shortly after he started poking around the City’s playground inspection and maintenance records. An Express-News investigation uncovered a cover-up of sorts, and the casualties of le petit scandale included former Parks & Rec Director Malcolm Matthews -- and now, the old audit system.

District 10 Councilman John Clamp, still chair of the newly expanded audit committee, and the other “no” vote, shares McNeil’s concern that citizens will be asked to serve as voting members on a committee that makes decisions without having to seek the approval of the full council. Citizens can only serve in an advisory capacity, argues Clamp, and he thinks adding them to the committee may mean that any changes to the City’s audit plan -- which governs what the auditor can investigate -- would have to be brought to the full council.

Clamp and McNeil also profess concern that those citizens would be on the hook both for internally unpopular audits, and any public screw-ups. When SA’s citizens voted in 2001 to create the City auditor position, says McNeil, they asked council to do the job. “To put citizens on the committee gives that job back to the people,” she said.

They also question the wisdom of having all five committee members, council reps and laypeople, appointed by the mayor (and by the language of the ordinance, it appears the full council may get to advise, but not consent to the mayor’s choices).

The Current also humbly suggests that if the City really meant to put some teeth into the office -- which is filled and vacated at the Council's pleasure -- they would have taken a cue from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and created a fixed term for the auditor. As it is, an independent-minded auditor [see: Pat Major, Pete Gonzales] can still be booted at any time with a simple majority. 

Read a draft of the ordinance council passed here; we're told the final is identical, but the Clerk's office won't give it up until they have the signed version in hand.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 11/21/2008 7:46:28 PM
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