Councilwoman Donna Frye wrote in:

At the February 28, 2007, Budget  & Finance Committee meeting, I learned that the Mayor had “shut down the city’s internal auditing unit leaving no employees to inspect invoices, purchases, time cards and department spending,” having them focus instead on overdue annual audits.

This action by the Mayor and his staff raises a number of material issues that demand an open and public process, especially considering that internal controls in the city have been the subject of some very expensive studies and ongoing audits.

So how would the Mayor’s year-long reassignment of the internal audit unit be addressed under the “compromise” proposal versus the budget ordinance that I support?

Under the compromise language, a public hearing and City Council action would not be required unless the proposed budget cut is a line item in the Annual Appropriations Ordinance and results in a $4 million or 10 percent cut. Therefore, the elimination of the internal audit unit would not be a budget cut per se, and City Council action at a public hearing would not be required because the employees  are still there – they are simply performing a different city function. At best, we would learn about it after the fact.

 Under the budget ordinance, the elimination of the internal audit function would be considered a material service level cut, and would require a City Council action at a public hearing before the Mayor could unilaterally eliminate this important function.

The public and City Council have a right to know what material city service levels are being eliminated (or reassigned for a year or more) before the decision is made, not afterwards. The compromise language (coming before Council on March 19th)  is not in the best interest of the public or our city because it eliminates the public and the legislative branch of government from much of the budget process. The public deserves better.

Frye was also blind-sided by the methods used to create the so-called compromise. It was negotiated behind-the-scenes by Council President Scott Peters who was one of the three no votes on the original ordinance (5-3). Evidently threatened by a Mayoral veto, Peters approached at least two of the original yes votes and emerged on March 1 at a press conference with Council member Tony Young, one of the original yes votes, thus undermining the public vote taken originally on Feb 5 and dictating a continuance to March 19.

The new proposal basically grants the mayor the right to make 10 percent cuts across-the-board without any public notice. President Peters felt no reason to explain or discuss his proposal or hear any public testimony when the matter was originally docketed for final action on March 4. Frye especially objected to the delay since the matter is only going to apply to the current fiscal year through June 30.

So any action will now not go into effect until the beginning of May. Clearly, the Council had little interest in the experiment they originally supported in public, preferring to punt again toward private negotiations over public expenditures.

— CAROLYN CHASE

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