published Monday, July 30th, 2012

'No' to city audit ordinance

There's no question that Chattanooga should have an independent auditor whose work and job status is insulated from political pressure by the city's mayor and members of the City Council. City leaders have come in recent years to support that concept, and the council last year approved a referendum for the ballot Thursday to put the plan for an independent auditor in motion. If it passes, the city charter would be amended to establish a recently drafted ordinance that lays out the legal framework for a new, independent office of internal audit for city government, an auditor to head that office, and an independent audit committee of five local CPA's to guide that office.

Problem is, the new city auditor, and the committee that would appoint him or her, would not be accountable to voters, or to any elected public official. That presents a big problem: an utter lack of public accountability under the statute. Moreover, it would shift current city auditor Stan Sewell into that job — a job that could easily turn into a lifetime sinecure for him so long as he performed well enough to satisfy just two of the five volunteer CPAs that control appointment and removal of the auditor.

Small wonder there is an unanswered question as to whether Sewell is behind the website, sign and letter campaign that promotes voter approval of the ordinance; or that council approval weakened on the second vote to place the ordinance on the ballot.

Sewell and the ordinance's proponents maintain that the method laid out in the ordinance for removal of the auditor is fair. The ordinance says the auditor will be appointed by the outside audit committee and approved by the Council. Removal is allowed for "just cause" by a vote of two-thirds of the five-member audit committed approval by the council.

Here's the kicker: To get two-thirds of the five-member audit committee to initiate removal, four members have to agree on removal. Three members, or 60 percent of the committee, wouldn't pass the "two-thirds" standard.

So all the auditor has to do to keep his taxpayer-financed job and hand-picked staff, is to persuade two people to support him. With that, he/she remains free to develop and lobby for an annual work plan that the audit committee would have to approve. Neither the full City Council or the mayor would have enough standing to have a say in what that work plan contained, or if it met their immediate legitimate needs. Which is why both the mayor and City Council would end up paying for an overlapping auditing function.

The ordinance should be tweaked to improve accountability. If appointment and removal required simultaneous consent of the mayor and six of the nine council members, as it is necessary to fire the city attorney, public accountability would not be an issue. As it is, voters should not pass the ordinance.

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aae1049 said...

Thank You, Thank You, Thank you, the truth! the Little Chicago Watch group has been screaming in the wind, with letters to editors. This is the biggest scam ever perpetrated under the color of public good. Hopefully the voters will stop it.

July 30, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Even when we saw those CAFR and CABRs published with warnings about the dangers of "redefining" millions of dollars in losses, we saw voters take no action.

When they campaigned for a recall after millions in lies, which were reported in the CAFR and CABR, the Times editorialized against recall.

If you don't have the guts to put a stop to corruption, getting a warning about it does little.

When your mayor acts like a corrupt fool, when millions in services go unpaid, when revenue goes uncollected, when the very definition of asset and liability are changed out of convenience: don't re-elect those people. Don't let them walk away unaccountable. That's what happened in Chattanooga under Mayors Ron Littlefield and Coppinger. That's what the Times editorialized for.

Insist on good government. Requiring mayors and city councilmen to tell the truth about the definition of money is not that hard. Just stop being a passive pushover.

Now we are on the edge of seeing more smokescreening. The truth is, existing auditor laws already warned everyone of the financial misdeeds at hand. If you don't react, then it won't matter what the laws say about reporting misconduct.

Financial misconduct in Chattanooga was openly reported to our citizens on an almost daily basis. They responded by going along and doing nothing. In fact, they're poised to allow it to continue.

July 30, 2012 at 8:02 a.m.
distefanodj said...

This paper has sunk to a new low in editorial process. Without contacting one single member of the Audit committee created by the City Council to address assist them - the very committee that spent months reviewing sample structures from a variety of other municipal and private sources - they have formed their "opinion" regarding the benefits to the citizens of Chattanooga. My "opinion" of the paper's "Opinion" is that is not worth the $.50 that I might pay to read it. In fact, it mirrors the "opinion" of the two council members that they bothered to interview and quote in last Friday's article(both of whom said they were not in favor) and not one word from the six members of the council that supported this . It completely ignores the recommendations of the Director of Municipal Audit for the State of Tennessee as well as one of the most recognized members of the governmental audit process in Academia. I am ashamed to admit that I even read the paper based on this biased and uninformed drivel!

I am calling on my right as a citizen to address the citizens of Chattanooga in the same way that you have and allow require that you post in tomorrow's paper my letter sent to you over a week ago - that you did not bother to post in any way - as a guest editorial in place of yours (you can refer to your opinion piece at the end - as I know you will).

David J. DiStefano, Chairman - City of Chattanooga Audit Committee

July 31, 2012 at 9:32 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Blah Blah Blah, David. Your Audit Committee, at best, chases potato chip money at concession stands, and ignores pervasive bid corruption.

The proposed ordinance actually worsens an already flawed condition.

For over a month, citizens and local organizations have been voicing opposition to the ordinance that appears on the August 2nd ballot to create an Independent Internal Audit group. We wish to again strongly urge citizens to vote against or no to the City of Chattanooga ordinance for Independent Audit.

The ordinance has been crafted to serve the interests of an individual, rather than the best interest of the public as intended.

We oppose the ordinance for the creation of an Independent Internal Audit for the following reasons.

1) Under the new ordinance, the voice of citizens and watch groups to request inquiry is completely removed. In the past, our watch group has formally requested inquiry to City Council, and two members, Peter Murphy and Deborah Scott have directed Internal Audit inquires in their role of representation of the people. If the ordinance for Independent Audit passes, our elected officials or City Council members will be rendered powerless in directing inquiry.

2) The ordinance grants very broad and concentrated authority to one individual, and a small appointed board that are professionally cozy. We believe that Internal Audit will be more politicized with their own agenda.

3) The ordinance as written prohibits the City Council from reducing the budget of the proposed Independent Internal Audit, unless the Council reduces the overall city budget. Yet, the salaries are set by the appointed board. This simply ties the hands of our elected representatives to determine financial priorities in budgeting.

4) The Internal Audit group that exists has chronically failed to examine known and pervasive bid corruption that amateur citizens and watch groups have reported with ample data. We fail to see how the existing Internal Audit will benefit from less direction from City Council members and the public in general.

5) The Internal Audit’s lack of transparency in their own political campaign is very troubling. Stan Sewell refuses to disclose the amount and source of funds that have been expended in lobbying the public for a yes vote for this ordinance. If this is what we can expect, it is time to be very concerned about granting this group broad authorities that are not subject to inquiry by elected officials. We believe the pro Internal Audit folks are indeed acting as a group, and are subject to state financial disclosure requirements. Stan Sewell’s refusal to disclose speaks volumes.

Please vote no on the City of Chattanooga ordinance for Independent Audit on August 2nd.

April Eidson Little Chicago Watch

July 31, 2012 at 4:16 p.m.
aae1049 said...

David, heck buy a newspaper if your feel that way.

"I am calling on my right as a citizen to address the citizens of Chattanooga in the same way that you have"

July 31, 2012 at 4:34 p.m.
distefanodj said...

While all are entitled to their opinion in this country, I would hope that those that look to set an example would be more open in their process. While City Council must debate the pro's and con's of an issue in the public, this paper has no transparency in its actions. I am only pointing out that not only did they not pursue valid points of view other than April's, but that they are not held accountable for such actions. I see they also failed to interview other politial candidates, but at least they admit that error. Just in time to look honorable, but too late to change the result. As our old friend the Church Lady would say..."How Convenient!"

August 2, 2012 at 9:46 a.m.
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