published Sunday, August 19th, 2012

City can't limit tenure or pay

In their rush to get a referendum on the Aug. 2 ballot to create an independent city auditor's office, City Council members made two big mistakes. They failed to make the city auditor accountable in any concrete way to the elected public officials whom city voters and taxpayers hold responsible for city government and its costs. And they failed to impose a discernible limit or cap on the auditor's salary.

On both points, these decisions are wrongly left up to an outside, five-member audit committee. With passage of the referendum 16 days ago, these five outsiders -- whose committee will become self-perpetuating once the original members are appointed -- will assume these powers. They and their self-appointed successors will determine over the years how much taxpayers should pay for the salaries of the auditor and his or her staff (currently four people), and when or if the auditor should be fired.

And since it takes the vote of four of the five members to terminate of the auditor, just two dissenters can keep an auditor in power -- even if city government officials and a majority of the audit committee itself justifiably seek to fire the auditor.

This surrender of all city authority to two members of an outsider club of five is too much to give. City officials need a more participatory role in both salary and the authority to terminate the auditor. But if they are to have a say, City Council members need to adopt a revised version of the auditor ordinance by the end of the month to get a corrective referendum on the November ballot. City Council members Peter Murphy and Jack Benson are rightly pursuing that option.

There's no question that the new auditor's office should have substantial independence to monitor expenditures and check the books for city government's operations and spending. That function should be free from political meddling and partisan or personal goals. That's the core reason for the newly adopted ordinance. But providing that independence shouldn't require city officials to abandon even partial authority to set limits on salaries and terms for removal from office.

The city's elected mayor and City Council members deserve more say on these points because they are closer to the mechanics and details of city government than an outside, volunteer oversight committee, which has to approve the auditor's work plan, ever will be. They simply are in a better position to know whether specific needs and departments are receiving adequate audit attention.

Given the proper and inherent tension between part-time city council members and the strong, fulltime mayor's position, it would make better sense to allow a two-thirds majority vote of the nine-member City Council to terminate the city auditor for cause. That would give the Council a meaningful limit on the auditor's office, which is otherwise a cozy life-time sinecure so long as just two members of the audit committee stand in favor of the auditor.

Similarly, a revised ordinance should limit the open-ended pay clause. As the new ordinance is written, city government is not allowed to reduce the budget for the auditor's office. Instead, the five-member committee can use national "market data" to set the auditor's salary. That's far too broad. A new proposal by Councilman Jack Benson would restrict the salary level to the "local market rate" for auditors. That's more reasonable.

These issues were brought up before the Aug. 2 balloting, but several council members had already decided, without much study, to favor the ordinance outline provided by auditor Stan Sewell and a few outside accountant advisers. Even now, council members Manny Rico and Deborah Scott fail to see that the ordinance failed the test of taxpayer justice, while giving Sewell a cushy lifetime sinecure.

It also established other arbitrary perks. For instance, it would allow the auditor's office to always occupy the third floor of City Hall, never mind future needs for the building. Basically, it gave Sewell everything he wanted, and lobbied for. That suits Sewell fine, but's not fair for city taxpayers. The City Council should approve a corrective ordinance for the November ballot, and persuade voters to adopt it.

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aae1049 said...

Open Request to City Council

Granting unlimited authority to set salaries and spending public money to a third party that is a self perpetuating appointed board is very concerning.

There has to be a mechanism for citizens to have a voice in spending through their elected representatives. Under the current Charter amendment that appeared on the ballot, the internal audit board members are all from one professional sector. This board lacks diversity to bring perspective to the table. This is by design. The public is not aware of the monumental flaws in this ordinance. The concept, but the operational details have made a bad situation worse. All appointed boards should have citizens, and various professional sectors represented to maintain the integrity of the process.

I do not believe the public was aware they were granting one cozy professional sector more authority than their elected city council. The language on the ballot was more than vague.

Our citizen watch group has filed numerous inquires regarding contract conflict of interest, and bid procedures to city council. Most of our concerns have been dismissed, not by City Council, by the current Internal Auditor, who has set on the side lines and watched pervasive bid corruption with no action what-so-ever. The City should start with a new internal audit group that does not have a history of turning a blind eye to pervasive bid corruption.

City Council member please pass an ordinance and get this matter back on the ballot for November to ensure that City Council sets the salary, has some authority in abolishing this appointed group if they fail to perform, and creates more diversity on the appointed board. Also, please hire a PR firm to educate the public on what the ordinance provisions, since the current internal auditor will again run a campaign for his own interests.

August 19, 2012 at 10:25 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

The charter of the city of Chattanooga already empowers the Mayor to hire an auditor. This point has been consistently ignored in these discussions. Also, in the event that the Mayor is somehow incapacitated, the leading member of the city council has the power to appoint an auditor.

There is no indication that the new, independent auditor, in any way hampers or prevents the appointment of existing auditors. No auditor would be in service without challenge.

The independent auditor's office is a secondary audit. It is not a substitute or replacement for the existing office of auditor appointed by the mayor or city council. The fact that more than one auditor is present in city government now should be clearly stated. This editorial and others have consistently failed to clearly present the important fact: there are now two auditors.

The main idea that the independent auditor's office would be unsupervised and unchallenged is not supported by the fact of the laws on hand. Anyone who has read the charter outlining the power and responsibilities of the Mayor and the City Council can see this. Given the recent recall attempts to remove Chattanooga City Mayor Ron Littlefield, this failure in research and argument is not excusable.

The Times Editors would do well to present all of the facts on hand about auditors. Skewed editorials, based on the ignoring of existing laws, do not inform the public or serve the public interest.

Readers should review the existing laws about auditors, the mayor and the city council, by reviewing the city charter for themselves. This editorial has failed to present key facts. We simply cannot trust the editorial as it was presented here to provide readers with a truthful reporting of conditions or suggestions for rationally valid conclusions.

In sum, the editorial is wrong because it deliberately overlooks multiple, existing powers to appoint auditors throughout city government. The facts show the public that the law allows the appointment of auditors responsible to the public through reports and accountable to elected officials.

The scope of the authority of those auditors includes the capacity to report on the paying of all people who do commerce with the city, including a newly appointed independent auditor. It is through those recommendations to the mayor, the city council and the voters that an independent auditor might be terminated.

Please leave the fiction to the Free Press. Go back to researching before writing. Thanks.

August 19, 2012 at 2:15 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Relevant laws outlined in the city charter that should have been addressed in the editorial include:

Charter section 8.15 covers the appointment of an internal auditor by the city council.

Charter section 8.33 covers the appointment of city treasurers and finance officers by the mayor.

Charter section 8.39 covers the appointment of financial inspectors (up to 3) by the mayor.

Charter section 8.52 covers the requirement that the mayor submit a budget. That is, he has to participate in proposals about how money will be spent. Also, it is implied that his ability to gather information and inspect finances are provided in support of his responsibilities.

If the mayor could not gather information or audit, there would be no way he could do his job as mayor on a practical level. Ignoring that point is part of what makes the editorial position outlined above a work of fantasy and fiction.

Notice how the law provides for as many as seven people (including the mayor himself) to have the power to conduct executive audits, investigations and reviews. Notice how the charter explicitly states how those people would be accountable to elected officials. Notice how those obvious facts are absent from the editorial.

The idea that the city "can't limit tenure or pay" is not supported by the facts on hand. The city charter clearly states otherwise.

August 19, 2012 at 2:27 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Let's get down to the real danger of the auditor's office: diffusion of definition and masking of motive.

The editorial implies that the main danger of the independent auditor is that he may be on the payroll forever. This is not true; and, it's not the main hazard. Once the office is created, a paycheck for someone is sure to follow; the people will pay out regardless of to whom. Yet, independence in auditing is a good idea, right?

Wrong. In this case independent audits don't protect us in the way we might assume. On the contrary, it can make us more susceptible to being manipulated by politicians. Let's see an example:

Say in the future all 7 people fulfill their duties to audit, investigate and report. During the review, some bad news gets discovered. It could be anything: willful crime, fraud, or just a common bad day in the marketplace. Yet, there's sure to be some bad news to be reported to the people. Now what?

Say 3 out of 7 each report a tiny tidbit of the bad news. The remaining four report neutral or good news. Overall, the report appears good. See? A majority of reviews showed that there was "good" news.

In actual audits and governmental reports, that kind of technique can be used in a very complicated blend. All the majority of auditors need to do is collude and work together.

Well, now one of those auditors is "independent." If the people respond that the reports have aspects that are politically motivated, all a defender would have to do is to point out the common aspects the auditors' reports had with each other and the "independent" auditor.

Watch how the political energy against the financial aspects of politics dissipates.

Meanwhile, we have many (likely to be mostly odd-numbered) auditors. See how they told the truth? If each tells a little, tiny bit of the bad news, then as a group the government has still reported, as a whole, the truth to the people. Under these kinds of schemes, controlled truths will often sound good.

No matter that the overall truth may be hard to find or discover or understand.

Notice, we just had a mayor so disgusting his tenure was challenged for removal. One of the key points supporting accusations of his misconduct was that he "redefined" by executive order $10 Million worth of assets listed in the budget.

Now, if definitions are thinly spread over many documents; if those documents are authored by people other than one party; if those documents show any observable overlap: see how easy it will be to cover up bad news?

That is the primary function of an independent auditor to entrenched politicos.

Take care to spot the diffusion of definitions and descriptions. It's an old trick. If a lawyer can deny the applicability of a definition, then he can deny all that comes after it. By spreading out opinion among many with many motives, a politician can conjure as much budget fiction as he wants.

August 19, 2012 at 2:59 p.m.
aae1049 said...

328K Website, how many auditors should we have auditing the auditors?

Our watch group has filed complaints about bid corruption. As a matter of operations, we know how the process works in actual application. Our group needs to be able to go through our elected representatives, because only the elected representatives can enact policy change to abate internal controls. You are all hung up in independent is all good, without looking at the actual application.

Yes, there is good cause to have internal audit, but the existing group has failure to act baggage that should not be trusted. Further, the appointed board is solely from one professional sector, that has to change, and the salary needs to be determined by our City Council. Otherwise, they have no control of the budget.

There may be more talented auditors, why does Stan Sewell auto get the Director's position? The positon should be advertised, and let the City Council appoint.

Again, why does Stan Sewell auto get the Director's position? That is a very reasonable question.

August 19, 2012 at 3:08 p.m.

Quis custodes ipsos custodient?

August 19, 2012 at 3:38 p.m.
Citizen49 said...

When both the left and the right in the paper come together against an independent auditor, I become suspicious. I checked the facts and the press misrepresented the facts.

I also find it very interesting that aae1049 gets it wrong every time he/she posts an opinion and misrepresents the facts.

Why has aae1049 not been vocal in opinion when the city auditor uncovered wrong doing? Remember the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce? What have you said about Chamber Executive Director Sherrie Gilchrist? What about when John Taylor said the money is where the money is. Not a peep out of aee1049. Nothing. A "citizen watch group" - give me a break - you, like the editors of paper, do not like the way the counsel voted and the way the citizens of Chattanooga voted. You misrepresent the facts. You do not want accountability.

August 19, 2012 at 5:55 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Citizen49 Instead of addressing the issues I have raised, you cite that I am wrong about everything, why don't you answer reasonable questions?

1) Why does Stan Sewell automatically become Director? The position should be advertised in the name of transparency to the public and the most qualified candidate assume the job, Why should the public assume that Stan Sewell is the most qualified?

2) The appointed board needs to be more diverse, not solely from one professional sector as it is.

3) The salary of the Director needs to be set by the City Council members who were elected by the people to be charged with financial and budget control. The appointed board is not elected by the people. As a matter of fact, I think it is illegal to delegate cont

Respond to the three questions. These are very reasonable questions, Waiting....

August 19, 2012 at 6:52 p.m.
Citizen49 said...

I'd be happy too. After you address why you are silent on the multicultural center fraud and how you do not misrepresent the facts.

August 19, 2012 at 7:17 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Citizen49 This thread is about the facts pertaining to the ordinance.

Didn't think you would answer.

If a revision ordinance passes and makes it to the ballot for revisions, and you guys run another campaign without filing financial disclosures, Someone may just file a formal written complaint to the State Election Commission and Bureau of Campaign Ethics. I have never heard of Auditors running a campaign as a group, and hiding their funding sources. Who paid for that campaign?

August 19, 2012 at 7:37 p.m.
Citizen49 said...

I didn't think you would answer. You like being unaccountable and making accusations without any facts to back them up as usual.

August 19, 2012 at 7:53 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Just sayin, you fellors run a campaign with expenditures for political outcomes, without filing financial disclosures and I will dial 1-800-CityAuditors-DoneGoneWild at TN Bureau of Campaign Finance. XOXO

August 19, 2012 at 8:44 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Not all complaints our group and I file are dismissed, you can bank on that.

On the Normal Park complaint against Rhonda Thurman, I was in excellent company with many others filing along me. I am very proud of that work, so were all involved. You are digging for totally unrelated items in an attempt to intimidate me. Laughable.

It is a legal requirement for the City Auditor to file a financial disclosure for the campaign expenditures seeking passage of the charter revision. Checking on it this morning.

August 20, 2012 at 9:11 a.m.
Citizen49 said...

Ms Edison says she is "in possession of enough information to show that Ms Thurman working in conjunction with Jim Crooks and Mr. Bikas did in fact compile personally identifying information about children and their parents, and generated a map for the purpose of fabricating a civil and criminal case against NPS."

August 20, 2012 at 1:25 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Citizen49 And your point is?

I WEAR THAT CASE LIKE A BADGE OF HONOR, with great support from so many people. Yep that is me, because I don't hide behind a user name like you, a girly man indeed.

Your persistence is just turbo fuel of me. I will proceed and file a complaint about the failure of "City Auditors Gone Wild" running a political campaign to control the vote, and NOT Filing a Financial Disclosure to the Tennessee Bureau of Campaign Finance. Whoops. I have some extra time this week. On it, Sugar!

My campaign will be called, "City Auditors Gone Wild."

August 20, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
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