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Martinez takes issue with Public Safety audit

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Members of the Public Safety Task Force received a presentation on Monday on the recent audit of the city’s public safety departments. That audit has previously been presented to the Council’s Audit and Finance Committee. Task Force members used the briefing by City Auditor Stephen Morgan and members of MGT of America to ask several pointed questions about the audit.


Council Member Mike Martinez, who chairs the task force, told the audit team he believed one of the fundamental premises of the audit was flawed. While some members of the Council have been seeking a way to curb the growth of spending on public safety as a percentage of the city’s General Fund budget, Martinez said that was an inappropriate measure of growth. The audit’s projections related to the General Fund, Martinez said, were inaccurate.


“You’re saying that the percentage of growth (for public safety) far exceeds the rate of growth for the General Fund. But what you don’t say is that in the year 2001, much of the services in the General Fund were pushed off to Austin Energy, to Solid Waste Services, and to any enterprise fund that could pay for an employee,” he said. “That caused a severe decline in the growth of the General Fund. And I think that this is a misleading comparison. If we want an accurate comparison, then it should be tied to the tax rate or the overall $2.6 billion city budget.”


Auditors said they were working on a follow-up report to explain some of the graphs contained within the 500-page document and to provide additional context. “Part of what was going on here was the whole thing focused on police operations, and really didn’t get into what was going on with the enterprise departments,” said Morgan. “The report focuses on…where can we become more efficient? Where can we save money? Where can we do a better job on police operations?”


However, Martinez disagreed with Morgan’s assessment of the audit. “You say that the question being asked is ‘where can we improve efficiencies,’ I agree with you,” he said. “But your portrayal is not a direct response to that question. You’re showing me what looks to be some severe inefficiencies, and when you drill down into it, it very well may not have ever been any inefficiencies. It may have been what management chose to do and what Council decided to do…in relation to shifting employees and expenditures from the general fund into enterprise funds.”


Task force member Mike Levy, a frequent critic of the Council’s approach to public safety, also found the report to be inadequate. He noted that while the audit suggested re-structuring APD’s command areas and re-assigning officers to focus more on community policing efforts, the auditors did not make specific projections on how that would improve public safety. “What do we get…and what does it do to meet the basic law enforcement needs of the community? Whether it’s measured by major index crimes, fatalities, homicides, burglaries…there are a bunch of stats you can measure against,” he said. “You make these recommendations, you say ‘this is what we need’, but you do not say what the expected outcomes will be…I’ve looked at the entire report, and all I’ve got is a bunch of questions.”


Such a projection, auditors said, was outside the scope of their work. “That wasn’t our assignment,” said Bob Lauder with MGT, the consultant on the audit. He also told Levy that it was not the audit team’s place to recommend a specific number of police officers for the city. “Those are public policy issues to be decided by this Council. We gave suggestions on where there are perhaps some inefficiencies and some missed opportunities. Our charge was to look at the resources, how they’re being spent.”


Levy urged the team to supply a new report to the Council, since the city and Austin Police Association are already in the preliminary stages of contract talks. “It’s a flawed report. It has misleading representations,” he said, “and I think that having a revised report that reflects many of the concerns would be appropriate, sooner rather than later.”


The task force also got a briefing on Monday from Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras on the start of those talks and further information about the policies for public access to the talks and any provisions for videotaping the proceedings. Levy also requested an itemized breakdown of how the current APA contract differs from state civil-service law, and which provisions of the contract would be lost if no agreement is reached and the city reverts to that state law.

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