Chattanooga City Council split on auditor's powers

Chattanooga City Council split on auditor's powers

October 28th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

WHAT'S NEXT


The city's audit committee will meet in December to tweak an ordinance it presented to the City Council last week. David DiStefano, chairman of the committee, said the newest proposed ordinance should come to the council early next year.

Two Chattanooga City Council members had decidedly different views this week on whether an audit committee should be formed under the City Charter and how much power the auditor should have.

Councilman Peter Murphy called the proposed internal auditor position an "auditor czar." He said the position would be dangerous, creating an auditor with too much power and too few checks and balances.

"It is not something we should turn over to an unelected, unrepresented body," Murphy said.

But council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said the proposed auditor position would need a certain amount of power to be effective.

"There's a point where their authority would end," she said.

The council created its own audit committee two years ago. Last week, that committee proposed an ordinance for a public referendum on whether to include an audit committee and internal auditor in the City Charter. That would make it a permanent position, members said.

Murphy said he feared whoever held the position would be allowed to look into ongoing criminal investigations or personnel records and even have authority to look at sensitive material such as FBI and Department of Homeland Security files held by the city.

The proposed ordinance establishes a committee with one member each picked by the mayor and council and three members chosen by local accounting firms.

The city's internal auditor would report to the audit committee.

David DiStefano, chairman of the current audit committee, said the internal auditor needs autonomy to examine the city government's fiscal responsibility without fear of reprisal from the mayor or council.

He said the auditor would have power only to look at finances, not personnel and criminal records.

"The internal auditor has no power," he said. "He can only look and shine the light on dark places."

City Auditor Stan Sewell said an auditor and committee under the City Charter would have no more power than in the present setup. He said creating the board is no different than the city's creating a board for EPB or any other city committee.

Sewell, who was hired by Mayor Ron Littlefield, agreed that an auditor needs the freedom to look into city finances and not fear repercussion.

"You need to remove it from politics as much as you can," he said.