The Bremerton City Council is considering a resolution to submit a charter amendment to voters in November that would do away with the City Auditor.
The idea was first floated by council member Jim McDonald and has been gaining traction ever since. McDonald is out of town this week, but in paperwork he shared with the council he states that the auditor is not accountable to the mayor or the council. He also notes that Bremerton and Seattle are the only two cities in the state with independent auditors.
In Bremerton, the auditor is appointed by a committee that includes two council members, two residents and a certified public accountant whereas in Seattle the auditor is appointed by the full council. McDonald notes that the 2013 budget for audit services is $173,168 despite the fact that the city has to pay the state for annual state financial audits.
“The current charter requirement is singularly unique and does not provide the council with effective control of the City Auditor; the City Auditor function is expensive; and there are other effective systems in place to measure and improve our city’s performance,” McDonald noted.
City Council President Greg Wheeler seems receptive to idea of changing the city’s charter.
“Nobody doesn’t want an auditor in the city,” Wheeler said. “It’s just the way it’s set up now there’s a disconnect. The feeling right now is the auditor doesn’t work for the council or the administration. That’s my feeling right now. Actually, that’s the gist behind the entire proposal. It’s not clear right now who he’s working for; the way our charter is set up, it’s basically for the audit committee.”
But Wheeler said that putting forward a charter change to voters getting rid of the auditor is far from certain at this point.
“I’m ready to discuss it more with the full council because I don’t think everybody is in agreement,” he said. “My mind isn’t set on this, but I recognize it’s not working as well as it should. The auditor operates in an executive-type session, behind closed doors and the public’s not invited and that’s probably where the disconnect happens.”
Wheeler said a charter amendment could be drafted that keeps the auditor, but changes the way the office operates.
“We need to get this thing fixed,” he said. “It’s always one of those things hanging out there that isn’t improved and isn’t getting better. We’re supposed to work with the administration to figure out ways to get things done for the city. If we’re not providing the tools within the budget, then we need to sit down (with the administration) and figure out what it is. It’s a big issue and may make it to a vote. We just need to make sure we get this right.”
Regardless of what happens, Wheeler wants to make sure that there are ongoing, independent reviews of city finances and functions.
“Whether we contract out or keep it, there is full intention to keep it independent,” he said. “It’s gonna come down to the proposal, if it’s not right we’ll need to find a better way to make this work.”