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Council, City Manager in tug-of-war over location of Auditor’s office

Monday, December 2, 2013 by Michael Kanin

A debate over where the City Auditor sits after the transition to the 10-1 Council Districts government is pitting City Council members against City Manager Marc Ott. The rising tension over the issue finds some Council members preparing a resolution to indicate their official position for the Dec. 12 Council meeting.

Meanwhile, city staff has begun preparations to move the Auditor and his staff to the Silicon Labs building, just across the street from City Hall. Council members would prefer that the Auditor – one of their direct reports – remain in the same building as their offices. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole summed up the situation for In Fact Daily.


“The City Auditor is a critical direct report to City Council. As such, we should use all reasonable efforts to keep him located in close proximity to City Council offices,” she said. “A legal question has arisen about whether the location of the auditor is a policy issue or a management issue. We will take the matter up in executive session at our next council meeting.”


Four additional Council members will arrive with the advent of the 10-1 system. This will create something of a crunch for space at City Hall. Current plans call for new Council offices to be installed where the Auditor currently conducts business, in the same portion of the building as current Council offices.


There are two possible relocation options currently under consideration. One would move the Auditor to 10,000 square feet of office space in the Silicon Labs Building just east of City Hall. The other would put the Auditor on the opposite side of City Hall, where the Economic Development Department currently resides.


Staff maintains that the latter option – the one apparently preferred by Council members – would cost an additional $200,000 and would limit the Auditor’s office in terms of space. Council members insist that the importance of having the City Auditor in close proximity to Council offices takes precedence.


On Nov. 8, Ott issued a memo that informed key city staff, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and the rest of Council – but not the City Auditor’s office – that he had decided to move the Auditor to the Silicon Labs building.


In the memo, Ott cites three major reasons: That “leaving the Economic Development Department in their current location will reduce the number of relocations from two to one, and avoid an estimated $200,000 in make ready/renovation and moving costs for the west side of City Hall; that “the existing space occupied by the Auditor is at maximum occupancy. The west side of City Hall has slightly different geometry and is a tighter fit for the Auditor than their current space; and that, in the Silicon Labs building, “security and privacy for investigations can be enhanced while still maintaining close proximity to City Hall and access to Council for the Auditor.


At the Nov. 20 Audit and Finance Committee meeting, Council Members Bill Spelman, Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo, along with Audit and Finance Chair Cole, were clear about how they preferred to proceed. Their discussion, including questions to Assistant City Attorney Deborah Thomas, produced a set of conflicting “final analysis” statements.


When asked to give the city legal department’s opinion on the matter, Thomas suggested that the decision about where employees sit was the City Manager’s call. Morrison asked if there could be a spectrum of opinions on the matter, to which Thomas replied, “if you’re asking if attorneys can disagree…yes, attorneys can disagree.”


Thomas continued: “Attorneys can argue anything but in this particular case, we’re still, in the final analysis, talking about where people sit and that’s very operational.”


Morrison fired back. “But, in the final analysis, the way I look at it is we’re talking about spending money,” she offered.


To that, Thomas conceded. “That is a reality,” she said.


“And that’s the Council authority,” continued Morrison. “To me, it really sort of goes back to…we really just need to work this out.”


Cole then chimed in with her own final analysis. “In the final analysis, I see it as a policy decision in light of the fact that it is a direct report that handles information that is very sensitive and that we have to deal with on a very frequent basis,” she said, adding that the issue is a “policy issue.”


Later, Cole gave Ott an out. “Many of us don’t feel very much different about the City Auditor than we do about the City Manager,” she continued. “It seems as preposterous to us to move the City Auditor out of City Hall as it is to move the City Manager. I’m not sure that fact is being communicated to city management.”


Mayor Leffingwell, however, did not seem sold on the idea of keeping the Auditor’s office in City Hall. “To me, it makes a lot more sense – I totally agree with the Manager in his decision, and it is his decision – to move the Auditor right next door at minimal cost,” he told In Fact Daily.


Leffingwell also noted that the City Auditor has not always been housed in City Hall. “I don’t know why it would be important that the Auditor be in the building,” he continued. “It’s my understanding that throughout most of history the Auditor has not been in the same building as City Council.”


Deputy City Auditor Cory Stokes told Council members Nov. 20 that, no matter Ott’s decision, the department would need an order from Council to move. She added that the extra cost issue only recently surfaced. She also noted that additional space should not be an issue.


In Fact Daily asked city management whether they are playing politics with the location of the City Auditor’s office and whether they are concerned about the idea that locating the Auditor’s office in the Silicon Labs building might make it more difficult for the Auditors to do their jobs. Management’s written reply to each question was a flat, “no.”

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