Tuesday, February 07, 2006 | A Jan. 1 report by City Auditor John Torell says “the concept of checks and balances and the controls inherent therein, are diminished at least perceptively, and often in reality, when the auditor is hired by and reports to the chief operating officer of the organization. This will happen with the advent of the strong mayor form of government.”

I surfed the Web to find how other cities appoint their auditor.

Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda County, Long Beach and Los Angeles elect theirs, Palo Alto, San Jose and Stockton auditors are appointed by city council. Outside of California, the Seattle, Honolulu and Phoenix auditors are chosen by city council. The only California city I found where the mayor hired the auditor was San Francisco – where the auditor is hired for a 10-year term.

The San Diego charter change is unique and lends itself to mischief. The mayor is empowered to fire the auditor without citing any cause and the proviso that the council can rehire him is far fetched since no auditor would want to work with a mayor who fired him, nor would a city council open the door to confrontation between these two officials.

On Jan. 23, Chief Operating Officer Ronne Froman told the city council that Mayor Sanders doesn’t want any changes in his powers over the auditor. At the same meeting Council President Scott Peters called a proposal to give the auditor more independence “rash.” Torell’s response was predictability timid, saying he could “live within the environment we have here.”

Is the auditor in a position to refuse requests from the mayor or Froman to tone down a report that criticizes top management? Hardly, knowing that he can be fired immediately.

The mayor’s unlimited power to fire the city auditor gives him the power to disgrace the auditor and permanently ruin his career. Coercion and intimidation by the mayor has already begun.

Assistant Auditor Larry Tomanek was scheduled to testify at the Rules Committee in favor of amending the charter to take away the mayor’s absolute power over the auditor. But at the last minute, Tomanek was a “no show.”

Councilman Jim Madaffer said his absence ‘speaks volumes.”

Nevertheless, only Councilwoman Donna Frye voted in favor of having a ballot measure that would amend the charter. Of course, the mayor and council know that the city’s previous financial statements were falsified and are being investigated by the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

You would think that they would want a truly independent auditor so that this practice would not repeat itself. You would be wrong.

Shapiro, a longtime City Hall watchdog, has won two Brown Act cases against the city of San Diego and Centre City Development Corp., which found certain closed sessions illegal. Do you agree, disagree with him? Send a letter here.

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