Last week Andrea Niehaus, who heads up internal audits at San Diego Unified, told financial watchdogs that school district attorneys have hampered her independence, saying that in one instance, she had to wait for a school attorney’s approval before examining payments to a school health trust.
Schools attorney Andra Donovan, who was at the same meeting where Niehaus aired her concerns, said she didn’t believe lawyers had ever interfered with the auditors. Over the weekend, I also heard from Mark Bresee, the attorney who just left the school district for a new job.
Bresee wrote in an email:
I neither asked nor expected other departments to seek Legal office approval to give documents to auditors/investigators; and 2) in the circumstance Andrea mentioned, when I was asked (unsolicited) whether the documents should be given to the auditors, I told them to give the auditors what they ask for.
The Legal office has not ever, nor will it ever, stand in the way of getting auditors and the investigator information relevant to their work.
Yet that is exactly the complaint that Niehaus raised, saying she had trouble getting documents for the first time in her lengthy career at San Diego Unified. What’s even more odd and interesting about this clash between San Diego Unified attorneys and auditors is that the audit department has long been managed by the legal department. So why are conflicts erupting now? That’s what I’d like to find out.