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Council switch complicates City Auditor search

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

In addition to all the other changes that will soon take place at City Hall, Austin needs a new City Auditor to replace Ken Mory, who is stepping down in December. And, like everything else these days, the process of finding a new auditor is somewhat complicated by the upcoming changes to the City Council.

At Tuesday’s work session, Council members took up the question of how, considering the circumstances, they should go about finding an auditor, and there looked to be support for waiving the normal process and moving forward with an appointment. That would require an ordinance, which City Council would have to approve.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole pointed out that, in her experience, hiring an auditor was a long process that “took a considerable amount of time.”

“I would be concerned if we left the Auditor’s Office without an auditor during this transition period, when there are so many potential large audits to take place,” said Cole. She added that she hoped the new Council members would appreciate the need for an auditor now, and recognize it was in their power to replace the auditor if they disagreed with the choice.

Council Member Mike Martinez noted the talent currently in the Auditor’s Office. He said that although he wasn’t opposed to an application process, he didn’t think it was necessary to “hire some consultant to help us find an auditor or do a nationwide search.”

“I think we have some incredible, young talent that is within our own existing staff, and I would be comfortable with this Council moving forward with appointing an auditor,” said Martinez. “But I also understand that there is a completely new Council coming in, so I’m certainly respectful and mindful of the fact that new Council might want to have some say in this process … I’m open to either.”

Assistant City Attorney Anne Morgan explained that the Council had three options for finding Mory’s replacement, which could take place at roughly the same time as the city shifts from the current seven at-large members to the new 10-1 system early next year.

The first option would be to let the deputy auditor serve as the acting auditor during the vacancy, which would automatically happen when Mory leaves office. Currently, the deputy city auditor is Corrie Stokes, who has been with the city since 1999.

The second option would see Council embarking on a city code-mandated process for selecting a new auditor, which is determined by committee. That five-person committee consists of three Council members appointed by the Audit and Finance Committee, the state auditor and the city manager.

“There are some really specific dates that are listed in the code,” said Morgan, who explained that the first meeting should take place within 15 days of appointment, when the committee would consider applicants. The committee then would have 90 days to make a recommendation to Council, and then Council would have an additional 15 days to select the new auditor.

“I think that it’s obvious with that process, and with the time frame involved, you could start that process, but you couldn’t complete it,” said Morgan. She added that the city’s Human Resources Department would have a lot of work to do before the process started, in terms of finding applicants.

The third option, said Morgan, seemed to allow Council to waive the normal process. It could choose to waive the mandated time frames or skip the process entirely and “appoint an auditor outright.”

Council Member Laura Morrison, who also took part in the last search for an auditor, pointed out that the current deputy auditor was a candidate even then, six years ago. She also thought it was important to have a permanent auditor in place soon.

“A new Council coming into office is going to have a certain amount of startup time before it can actually get to a point of creating a committee. I think we would be talking about contemplating a significant amount of time with an interim auditor, which makes me somewhat uncomfortable … I’m just uncomfortable asking someone to be an interim for two years,” said Morrison.

Mory announced his resignation this summer and will leave office by the end of the year.

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