published Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Chattanooga voters approve auditor; deannexation up in air


by Cliff Hightower

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Were you surprised by any election results?

Chattanooga voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of an independent city auditor position.

With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, voters approved the auditor 73 percent to 27 percent, unofficial results show.

With the approval, City Auditor Stan Sewell will become the new independent auditor.

Sewell did not return repeated calls Thursday night.

Councilwoman Pam Ladd said Thursday night that the hope now is for the city to have an auditor who will have no political affiliations and will be able to conduct investigations without fear of retaliation.

"No one will have the ability to influence," she said.

The referendum has come under fire recently because of questions about whether it gives too much power to the auditor. The ordinance that voters approved sets up an independent auditor who is overseen by an audit committee made up of five certified public accountants.

In order for the auditor to be fired, four committee members would need to approve the termination, and the City Council would then have to vote it up or down.

Some opponents have said that gives too much autonomy to the position.

Sewell has said the independent auditor position is needed because, under the current setup, the city auditor can be hired or fired by the mayor. He said an independent position helps with transparency and makes sure politics are out of the picture.

In another Chattanooga referendum, voters on Elder and Raccoon mountains tied 20-20 on whether they wanted to deannex from the city. Only those who lived in the affected area were able to vote.

Chattanooga officials said late Thursday night they were unclear what the procedure would be if the vote were a tie.

The council approved the ballot referendum earlier this year after city administrators said they did not offer enough services to the area.

Residents of the area have said they opposed deannexation because they rely on city-run salting services up the mountain road during the winter.

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