Colorado Springs Councilman Sean Paige is considering a November ballot measure to ask voters whether the city auditor should be elected rather than appointed by the City Council.
An elected city auditor who answers to the public “is going to be a little bit more aggressive and independent than one that answers to City Council,” Paige said today.
“That’s no slam on the (city) auditors,” he added. “The auditors have done a good job within the current model, but there is that tether to City Council that I think has the potential to inhibit their independence and their aggressiveness.”
Paige’s proposed ballot measure comes on the heels of two others that would change the city’s governance structure if approved by voters.
The City Council Restructure Petitioner’s Committee wants to add a fifth council district, and Citizens for Accountable Leadership wants to switch the city from a council-manager form of government to a strong-mayor system, giving the mayor executive powers.
Paige said members of the group pushing the strong-mayor proposal are cool to his idea because they don’t want to clutter the November ballot.
But he said his proposal for an elected city auditor could strengthen their proposal.
“It would give taxpayers greater assurance that there’s a watchdog out there that would be monitoring what the strong mayor does,” Paige said.
“You’re consolidating more authority and control and power in a single office, and this would provide a valuable check and balance on the consolidation of power,” he said.
The auditor’s responsibilities include auditing four major financial systems — accounts receivable/billing, accounts payable, payroll and purchasing – and contract compliance.
“Colorado Springs Utilities has many complex contracts for fuels and services that involve million of dollars annually. We review these contracts annually to ascertain that all parties are abiding by the terms of the agreements,” according to the auditor’s website. “Other entities, such as Colorado Springs Airport and the city, have similar contracts that are also audited.”
Colorado Springs currently has an interim city auditor, Denny Nester, who took over after Jeff Litchfield resigned earlier this year to become assistant finance director for the city of Tacoma, Wash.
Other cities, including Denver and Portland, have elected auditors.
Denis Berckefeldt, a spokesman for the Denver auditor, said an elected auditor who doesn’t answer to a mayor or City Council has the ability to conduct audits “without looking over their shoulder,” worrying about being fired or saying the wrong thing.
“Independence is really key to giving the citizenry the confidence that if an auditor finds something and reports it, they can be assured that nobody has monkeyed with the finding or tried to slant it in any way,” he said, adding that if an audit doesn’t turn up anything wrong, the public can have the confidence that the issue wasn’t swept under the rug.
“The downside that you hear in Denver is that an elected auditor is sort of a stepping stone to being the mayor, and you’re always going to be fighting,” Berckefeldt said. “Well, that may be, but that may not be a bad thing either.”
Paige said he still hasn’t developed the details of his proposal, including salary for an elected auditor. He said he wants to hear from Colorado Springs residents to determine if there’s support for the idea. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, Paige said he’s not interested in running for city auditor.
“This is not an effort to create an office for myself,” he said.
“Anyone who knows me knows that my math skills and my organization skills would preclude me from being a city auditor,” he said, laughing.