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Morgan tells Council he’ll retire as City Auditor

Friday, January 16, 2009 by Austin Monitor

After 24 years with the City of Austin, City Auditor Stephen Morgan announced his retirement from the city on Thursday. Morgan, 55, told In Fact Daily that he does not intend to stop working altogether but is looking forward to a less hectic life and more time with his family.

 

Morgan said in his retirement letter to the Mayor and Council, “I am most proud of my contributions to initiating and accomplishing performance auditing, integrity services including investigations, and special ongoing auditing efforts focused on inherent risk in Austin Energy, Austin Water Utility, police operations and revenue collections.”

 

Morgan has been doing government auditing for 31 years, including a stint in the federal Government Accountability Office in Washington, DC. He intends to step down at the end of February. He has served as City Auditor for eight years and was Deputy City Auditor for 10 years before that.

 

“The office is stronger than it has ever been,” said Morgan. “I think the Council has been supportive and they’re going to be even more supportive.” Based on the passage of Proposition 1 in November, an auditor will serve a five-year term and “will have even more opportunity to be involved in the city,” he said.

 

The investigation that ranks as Morgan’s highest profile recent case involved irregularities at the city’s Convention Center. That probe resulted in the firing of Convention Center Director Bob Hodge in 2007 and his indictment for tampering with government documents related to how convention goers viewed their Convention Center experience. Morgan noted that the audit was otherwise important because it focused on questions surrounding financial abuses. Hodge pleaded guilty to one count but was never charged with any other crimes.

 

Auditors were under considerable pressure to get their work done quickly because “the city potentially was at risk because of a possible delay in getting our financial opinion.” The auditors were able to answer outside financial analysts’ questions satisfactorily so that the city could move forward with bond sales, among other things.

 

Morgan also cited the auditors’ work on police salaries, benefits, and departmental costs. “We found there was a lot of overlap between different units and duplications. It provided him with the opportunity to say here are three or four units doing similar missions. My view is that it was positively received by Chief Acevedo.”

 

Auditors have also helped the city collect missing taxes and franchise fees. One example of that was hotel and motel audits. In 2005, an audit uncovered $700,000 that was owed to the city but not yet collected. A follow-up audit revealed a smaller chunk of change but both audits resulted in increased funds for the city as well as increased city awareness of money that could be collected.

 

Likewise, Morgan noted, Time-Warner gave the city a check for $1.8 million last year after auditors discovered discrepancies in the amount of money owed for the cable company’s use of Austin Energy’s poles and the amount that had been paid.

 

Last fall, Morgan lost a public but not well-publicized fight to transfer seven auditors in other parts of the city staff to his office. Four of those positions are currently on the Corporate Internal Audit staff, and one each is from Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs, Public Works and the Convention Center.

 

Council Member Sheryl Cole chairs the Council Audit and Finance Committee. She and Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken rejected the idea of taking auditors away from other city departments while Council Member Lee Leffingwell supported it.

 

Cole said Thursday, “Steve Morgan brought a unique brand of financial expertise to the Audit Department and he will be missed.”

 

Leffingwell said he was “completely surprised,” by Morgan’s decision. “I had no idea he was thinking about retiring. I wish him well in his retirement. And now we’re faced with finding another city auditor.”

 

Morgan said under the ordinance governing the position the Council would appoint Taylor Dudley, Deputy City Auditor, to the position of Acting City Auditor until a new City Auditor is appointed—unless for some reason the Council decides to waive the requirements of the ordinance.

 

Morgan was elected Chairman of the North American Board of the Institute of Internal Auditors on July 10, 2007 and served for one year, as is customary. He is currently chair of the group’s nominating committee.

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