Auditor change more perception than procedure

Auditor change more perception than procedure

September 3rd, 2012 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

Chattanooga City Councilman Peter Murphy.

Chattanooga City Councilman Peter Murphy.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Within a month, the city auditor position will become completely independent of the mayor's administration.

Yet, there won't be a lot of change.

"Procedurally, what we do won't change at all," City Auditor Stan Sewell said. "The biggest change you really have is in appearance."

A month ago, voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of an independent city auditor position. The referendum changed the City Charter to establish the position, a change Sewell said will become official on Oct. 1.

But immediately after voters approved the measure, some council members wanted to go back and tweak it. Councilman Jack Benson said that a supermajority of the Audit Committee should be needed to oust the auditor, and he called for another referendum.

He also asked that the auditor's salary be based upon "local market rates" instead of "market rates" as in the present ordinance.

The council voted 6-3 Tuesday night not to allow a second referendum in November. Benson, Councilman Peter Murphy and Councilwoman Sally Robinson voted for a referendum.

Murphy said last week he does not see the council tackling the issue again any time soon.

He said most of the council members wanted to let the position work for a while and if anything goes wrong, then tweak it.

"We're going to have to see how it plays out," Murphy said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd agreed.

"Because it's so new, it's worth us keeping an eye out," she said.

She said making changes now would be premature.

Sewell said that while the ordinance calls on the auditor to be paid market rates, he does not expect any kind of raise.

"I'm currently in the market range per the city's personnel policy," he said.

The big thing the charter amendment affects is the public perception, he said. Sewell and his office should no longer have any appearance that they are being directed by the mayor's office, he said.

"It helps get past the image that you are being influenced," he said.

Now, also, the auditor will be able to speak more freely about things that need fixing within city departments, he said.

"You're going to see us being a little more vocal," Sewell said.