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Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick was in San Diego this morning to tell a City Council panel that her ability to be an effective taxpayer watchdog depends on her ability to work freely from city management.

The issues of independence and the expansion of duties for the city of San Diego’s auditor position have been pushed to into the limelight at City Hall, as the city government grapples with its new strong-mayor form of governance and the plans to refine it in 2008.

Chick told the council that her status as an elected official means she has the independence to more vocally confront problems in the city’s management when she discovers them. The arrangement, she said, provides her the requisite freedom she needs so that she can independently prioritize the areas of government she audits, but Chick acknowledged that placing too much leeway in the wrong hands could also be problematic.

“The fact that I’m an elected official means that I get the public’s attention,” Chick said. “I guess that’s maybe one of the best arguments for and against an elected controller.”

In San Diego, the city auditor reports to the Mayor’s Office, an arrangement that has contributed to the friction between Mayor Jerry Sanders and former Auditor & Comptroller John Torell, who resigned earlier this year.

Councilman Tony Young also said he was unsure if the most popular candidate for a controller or auditor position meant he or she was the best fit for the job. “My concern is that who wins is the best politician with the best financial backing and not necessarily the person with the best auditing background,” Young said.

Chick also talked about performance audits of city agencies and functions, which she said is “about the government finally asking two questions: How are doing, and how can we do it better?” She continued: “It is shocking and almost criminal to me that governments are not asking, ‘How are we doing and how can we do it better?’” Chick said.

San Diego’s auditor has not traditionally conducted performance audits, but the council members at the Rules Committee meeting said they were excited about the possibility.

“We’re trying to make sure the taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck,” Madaffer said, adding later that he “can’t wait until we create your position.”

The question over the auditor’s duties will likely surface in the upcoming discussions over the city charter.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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