Councilman floats proposal for elected city auditor

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: May 20, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: May 20, 2010

If you live in Colorado Springs, you may have heard of the push for a strong mayor.

Now, there’s a push for a strong auditor, too.

Colorado Springs Councilman Sean Paige said Thursday he’s considering a November ballot measure to ask voters whether the city auditor should be elected rather than appointed by the City Council.

An independently elected city auditor who answers to the public “is going to be a little bit more aggressive and independent than one that answers to City Council,” Paige said.

“That’s no slam on the (city) auditors,” he added. “The auditors have done a good job within the current model, but there is that tether to City Council that I think has the potential to inhibit their independence and their aggressiveness.”

The auditor is responsible for auditing four major financial systems — accounts receivable/billing, accounts payable, payroll and purchasing — and monitoring contracts, among other responsibilities.

Denny Nester is the city’s interim city auditor. He replaced Jeff Litchfield, who resigned earlier this year to become assistant finance director for the city of Tacoma, Wash.

Paige’s proposed ballot measure comes on the heels of two other proposals that would change Colorado Springs’ governance structure if placed on the ballot and approved by voters.

The City Council Restructure Petitioner’s Committee wants to add a fifth council district, and Citizens for Accountable Leadership wants to switch the city from a council-manager form of government to a strong-mayor system, giving the mayor executive powers.

Paige said members of the group pushing for a strong mayor are cool to his proposal because they don’t want to clutter the November ballot.

But he thinks his proposal could strengthen theirs.

“It would give taxpayers greater assurance that there’s a watchdog out there that would be monitoring what the strong mayor does,” Paige said.

Other cities, including Denver and Portland, have elected auditors.

Denis Berckefeldt, a spokesman for the Denver auditor, said an elected auditor who doesn’t answer to a mayor or a City Council can conduct audits “without looking over their shoulder,” worrying about being fired or saying the wrong thing.

“Independence is really key to giving the citizenry the confidence that if an auditor finds something and reports it, they can be assured that nobody has monkeyed with the finding or tried to slant it in any way,” he said.

If an audit doesn’t turn up anything wrong, he said, the public can be confident the issue wasn’t swept under the rug.

“The downside that you hear in Denver is that an elected auditor is sort of a stepping stone to being the mayor, and you’re always going to be fighting,” Berckefeldt said. “Well, that may be, but that may not be a bad thing either.”

Paige said he still hasn’t developed the details of his proposal, including salary. He said he wants to hear from Springs residents to determine if there’s support for the idea. His e-mail address is spaige@springsgov.com.

Paige, by the way, said he’s not interested in running for auditor.

“Anyone who knows me knows that my math skills and my organization skills would preclude me from being a city auditor,” he said, laughing.

Call the writer at 476-1623

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