Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Councilmen want panel to monitor city audit

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A bipartisan duo of Cincinnati councilmen says the city's internal auditor isn't independent enough, and they are proposing a stronger, five-member committee to keep watch over taxpayer money.

Democrat David Crowley and Republican Pat DeWine say they want the city's internal auditor to answer tough questions: What happened to the $6.5 million in city money that went into the now defunct Huntington Meadows apartment complex in Bond Hill? Were lax controls responsible in part for the $184,217 missing from the Empire Theater project in Over-the-Rhine?

They say taxpayers won't get those answers as long as the internal auditor is answering to the people he is supposed to be watching.

"There have been too many scandals under too many city managers," DeWine said. "In this age of WorldCom and Enron, we should be strengthening the internal auditor. But in last year's budget, we did just the opposite."

In last year's budget proposal, City Manager Valerie Lemmie moved the internal auditor down several steps on the organizational chart, from the city manager's office to the Budget and Evaluation Division.

The Crowley-DeWine proposal would create a five-member Internal Audit Committee. Three members would come from City Council - one from each political party - and the mayor would appoint two. That board would set auditing policy for the internal auditor, who would still be hired and fired by the city manager.

The councilmen said that arrangement is as strong as they could get without changing the city charter.

Lemmie said she would defer to City Council's judgment about the best way to structure the Office of Internal Audit.

But she also defended the current system.

"I didn't want them to be an entity that just did audits, but also an arm of city government that can give advisory assistance to other departments about the best way to maintain controls," she said. "Obviously, those guiding functions will be lost."

Crowley said he hopes to maintain the office as a "tool" for other departments.

"It should not be perceived as a hammer hanging over a department head," he said.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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