The recent revelation of the City of Albany’s financial reporting shortcomings signals home what Finance Director Kris Newton concedes is a significant deficiency at city hall: The lack of an internal auditor.
Before being promoted to her current position, Newton made an eloquent, fully researched argument that the City Commission should hire an auditor that works for it – not the city manager.
Newton’s stance – which was themed primarily on establishing a checks-and-balances system for accounting for city finances – hasn’t provoked much though, much less any action, at city hall. Indeed, rather than having a meaningful public discussion about the proposition, the matter has remained under the radar, which is the way our leadership rolls these days.
Internal auditing serves as an independent, objective source of information for the citizenry and a mechanism to investigate suspected fraud, waste and abuse. It definitively separates the politics of elected officials and the challenges associated with a government bureaucracy. It provides public accountability for the use of tax money, resulting in better government.
As if all the documented fraud and abuse at city hall weren’t enough reason for an internal auditor, now the annual report of the City of Albany’s finances by an independent auditor reveals a significant material weakness – a major infraction — and other internal control snafus labeled by the auditor as “serious deficiencies.” Indeed, the accounting controls are so lax that Newton wasn’t aware of the “material weakness” finding until it was revealed to her by a reporter.
The case for an ongoing financial review by a city staffer independent of the city manager, with certified public account credentials, is an argument that also had been steadfastly made by City Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard. (Then again, Assistant City Manager Wes Smith says that Hubbard is a “voice in the wind” and a “nobody” with no support among her colleagues, so perhaps no one was listening.)
As Newton and Hubbard maintain, government auditors not only help improve government to better serve the citizenry, they also help ensure that local government is efficient, effective and accountable.
By Kevin Hogencamp