Whether the City Controller should have the right to conduct performance audits of other elected officials has resulted in a bitter fight between the Controller and the City Attorney. Wendy and Carmen jumped into the ring right after Rocky and Laura climbed out. It’s a perfect script for a WWF tag team event. I’m just waiting for the body slams.
It is not easy trying to sort the issues out. Performance audits by their very nature can involve much subjectivity. They tend to work very well when there are established standards in place.
I asked Carmen if there were any standards by which the City Attorney’s Office can be measured.
He replied, “There have never been standards (in the City Attorney’s Office). There is no comparable office for which standards can be derived. We are the largest prosecutorial department in the nation.”
I can’t help but feel that standards are nonexistent for elected officials’ offices throughout City Hall.
So that’s problem one in my book. The last thing I want to see is money going towards an aimless and possibly futile exercise in feigning accountability. That is what you will get out of a performance audit when no one knows how a job is to be performed in the first place – anywhere.
It seems standards should be established before we spend time on a charter amendment authorizing the Controller to conduct these audits. Establishing standards would be a worthy project and require collaboration among the Controller and the Electeds. Nevertheless, it would be easier said than done. After all, standards can be very subjective and change drastically as conditions fluctuate. For example, separation of duties is essential to handling valuables or controlling monetary transactions. What would happen if a department lost half of its staff? That could happen in the Controller’s Office soon. Separation of duties could get compromised due to a lack of heads.
He mentioned there is also a general fear among other elected officials about granting power to another elected to audit their performance. The Charter Amendment being proposed amounts to “mutually assured destruction,” according to Carmen. Everyone in office could audit anyone. It would ensure that no one elected official could use a performance audit for political advantage without being subject to retaliation.
In other words, the result will be a stalemate. I am not sure if the Charter Amendment is worth pursuing under those conditions.
The city will be losing thousands of employees, including those already approved for ERIP. Seems like it might be time for all departments to reengineer their procedures, whether they had good ones in place or not. To commence full blown performance audits when the city is on the edge of a financial precipice will not be productive. The focus should be on assisting critical departments with revamping internal controls and making the best out of an intolerable situation.
The first real hurdle in the inter-office feud between the two is the workers compensation audit. According to Trutanich, the field work is just now getting underway. There appears to be sharp differences between Greuel and the City Attorney regarding confidentiality of case files. When I talked to Wendy back in December, she indicated meeting resistance over access to the files. Carmen all but confirmed that. He said she has “no (legal) right to look at the files.” He added, “She does not need to look at them to determine effectiveness (of the process).”
Carmen’s major concern is about the quality of the firm Greuel is using to conduct the audit. He claims it is not certified to handle workers comp audits.
I plan on discussing the subject of workers comp audits with a friend who has been an insurance auditor for many years; so more on this subject at a later date.
Speaking of insurance auditors, Trutanich said he plans on having a few provide training for his attorneys. He wants to be certain his staff is fully prepared to determine what to pay and how much. He does not want to rely as much on outside counsel as Delgadillo did.
Aside from access to confidential files, Trutanich has no problem with Greuel’s review of the handling procedures. He firmly believes that all components of the workers comp process should be consolidated in the City Attorney’s Office (the Personnel department handles all matters up until it becomes a case). This may be a good idea given the dire financial straits of the city. There could be potential for synergy.
As I mentioned in Part 1, there is only so much ground you can cover in a limited amount of time, especially when discussing very technical issues.
I look forward to further meetings with both Carmen and Wendy. Whether you approve of them or not, they both occupy critical positions at the most challenging time in our city’s history. They will both play an important role in the months and years ahead. Potentially, they represent the only checks and balances on the Mayor.
Read Full Post »