San Diego’s former internal auditor says Mayor Jerry Sanders’ need for “team players,” — and a general sense of fear and loathing at all levels of city government — will subvert the independence of the auditor even if voters approve charter amendments that take control of the auditing functions away from the mayor.

“With this administration, you are either a team player or their enemy — they totally miss the role and value of the auditor to the organization — they don’t get it,” wrote former auditor John Torell in an e-mail following our story Monday on the severe staff shortage in the auditor’s office.

Torell was hired by Sanders in March 2005 to bring about reforms to the city’s corrupt system of fiscal management. He quit early last year after months of battles with Sanders over the auditor’s autonomy. He is now director of Housing and Community Development for the County of Santa Barbara.

“Everyone is scared to death,” said Torell, describing the feelings of city employees in February 2007.

Heading Torell’s list of reasons for leaving was the fact that he reported to the city’s chief financial officer. Since he left, the city’s charter review committee has endorsed an amendment to the City Charter slated for the June ballot that would make the auditor answerable to a newly-constituted City Council audit committee. The committee would include both council members and private citizens.

However, said Torell, the mayor will nominate the auditor — meaning he will have the ability to maneuver one of his “yes men” into the slot.

“The passage of Prop C would not benefit the residents of San Diego,” Torell said. “Because of the mayor’s involvement in the auditor selection process, it would have a chilling effect on the ability of the auditor to be up front and outspoken on vital issues.”

Torell says San Diego should look to the Bay Area for the right way to do things. In San Jose, he says, the auditor is hired by the city council, given a 10-year contract and can only be removed early by a unanimous vote of council.

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