Friday, June 08, 2001

Bill would strengthen auditors

By Travis James Tritten
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Ohio county auditors would be working side by side with the state to conduct internal audits and uncover financial mismanagement by county commissioners, under a bill drafted this week by a Cincinnati lawmaker.

        Critics of the current audit system, including Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, say county auditors have little power to check the spending of commissioners, who both approve county spending and initiate audits on that same spending.

        “This is a case of the fox running the chicken coop,” said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Steven Driehaus, D-Cincinnati.

        Under a proposed law sponsored by Mr. Driehaus, auditors could look into local government spending practices at any time after getting state approval.

        County auditors are now in charge of writing checks that pay for county programs, but have no authority to check trends in government spending - that's up to the state.

        But the state is required to conduct only one county audit every two years. In testimony before the House Wednesday, Mr. Rhodes said the bill would provide a “desperately needed level of oversight to protect taxpayer money.”

        “I believe the county auditor's job should include the ability to audit,” Mr. Rhodes said.

        Under current law, the auditor's office was not permitted to oversee spending on the construction of Paul Brown Stadium, which is now $50 million over budget, Mr. Rhodes said.

        “Having an independent eye looking at this could have helped when the stadium fiasco blew up,” he said.

        County Commissioner John Dowlin said contract audits are done on a regular basis and he sees no need for any changes in the system.

        Commissioner Todd Portune, however, called the proposed law long overdue.


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