Liam Dillon is an excellent reporter, with whom even his advocates sometimes disagree. His coverage of the audit of the city’s Development Services Department is one such example.

I strongly disagreed with his introduction innuendo; it is creative writing that feeds the anti-city, anti-public worker sentiment we have been force-fed for the past ten years. For many San Diego citizens it will be “suspicions confirmed,” and it sets the tone for the article which the audit furthers. Some may choose to stop with only that introduction.

Instead of leading the reader into the article through a dark alley, why not say that the auditor found no fraud but did find systems in need of improvement and preventive maintenance to preclude the possibility of future fraud? Factual, and, I must admit, not nearly as titillating as his lead paragraph.

What comes through loud and clear, is that the city rarely has state of the art software or IT programs. Maybe the auditor should do a review on how the city gets routinely shorted on its IT contracts. Could it be political influence? Perhaps, but the costly problems with IT implementation have been amply documented.

It’s noted that the computer system was developed in-house (SDDPC most likely did the job), but what it didn’t say was how old and inefficient it is. Since the development of the system, the rules have changed, the people have changed, the demands on the employees have changed, and most significantly, the whole development environment has changed, but the computer system still works under the processes and policies of yesteryear. The department has apparently done a great job at adapting to the work process changes while continuing to make the old system work despite its limitations. Kudos to the department and its employees for being so industrious and honest.

The article could have stated, “Audit confirms that the City’s Development Services Dept. gets an “A” for a job well done.” Despite understaffing, high workloads, limited supervision and deficiencies with the computer system another city department forced to do more with less has risen to the task. After the city auditors departmental review found mostly potential for misuse which could potentially lead to fraud, the DSD came away with a clean performance report. The auditor found no fraud, no favoritism and no special treatment by city staff while meeting the very demanding standards imposed on their work product.

It is amazing that the audit did not find more existing problems instead of the potential problems. Cuts in staff, and the influence of a “strong” mayor, a storm of anti-public employee sentiment and the routine charge that development regulations are not “business friendly.” That criticism is not new but in administrations past there was some defense of the regulations and city staff by management and elected officials. Now, elected officials are making political hay out of pandering to the critics while doing little to improve the system.

One last point: having supervised city staff I am familiar with performance reviews, and documentation necessary to ensure that the employee either meets city standards and expectations or they are separated from city service. I thought it was a cheap shot for the auditor to use those reports as evidence of wrong doing or shortcomings rather than management efforts to bring the performance up to standard.

I am a strong advocate of the city auditor and recognize that he has a formidable task, but I would rate this audit as “improvement needed” but with great “potential” to do better. Perhaps a second-round audit would be helpful to discern whether under a strong mayor system political influence is creeping into the development review process. There too they could search for fraud or favoritism or as in this audit, the potential there for.

Joe Flynn lives in El Cajon.

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