published Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Chattanooga City Council drudging up auditor again


by Cliff Hightower
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Just weeks after voters overwhelmingly approved an independent city auditor position, Councilman Jack Benson said Tuesday it should be brought to voters once again.

This time in a different form.

"I think we made some mistakes that need to be corrected and adjusted," he said.

The Chattanooga City Council will have a chance to vote on placing a second charter amendment on the ballot, three weeks after voters approved the first charter amendment creating the new independent office of the auditor.

Benson, and other critics, maintain the new independent auditor's office has too much autonomy and it is almost impossible to dismiss that person from office.

Councilman Manny Rico immediately countered Benson's arguments.

"This should have been discussed when we put it on the ballot," Rico said. "Now you're going to say the voter's don't know?"

An amendment on the Aug. 2 primary ballot asked voters yes or no on if they approve of a separate independent auditor free from the mayor and council's control. The ordinance was approved by 73 percent of voters.

But Benson said he felt like the ordinance needed "tweaking" and said the super majority needed from the audit committee to oust the sitting auditor should be lowered. He also said the auditor's pay should be set by "local" market rate and not just "market rate."

"We've given him too much security," he said.

Councilman Peter Murphy backed up Benson and said he knows voters approved it, but did not think they were aware of some of the minute details contained in the ordinance. For example, the auditor can now stay on the third floor of City Hall and never be moved to a comparable office, he said.

"The devil is in the details," Murphy said.

Councilman Andraé McGary seconded Benson's call to put the amendment on the agenda. City Attorney Mike McMahan said he would write a draft the council could vote on next week.

Councilwoman Deborah Scott said she did not know why there needed to be another vote since it had already been approved by three bodies: the audit committee, the council and the public.

"The people are satisfied with it based upon a 73 percent approval passage," she said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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