The controversial property tax vote has been all the buzz around Mesa.
But with everyone’s attention focused on tax issues, many people have forgotten about another important ballot question: Should the city create a second independent auditing department that will report directly to the City Council?
If Mesa residents vote in favor of Proposition 101 on the May 16 ballot, the city will wind up with two auditing offices: The current internal auditing office plus a brandnew, independent one, said Denise Bleyle, a management assistant for the city.
The members of the current auditing department will continue, as they always have, to report to the City Manager’s Office. The members of the new office, however, would report directly to the City Council.
Having an independent auditor could hopefully bolster the public trust of city government and how it uses taxpayer dollars, said Councilman Rex Griswold, who supports the measure to create a second auditing office.
“This is part of being able to obtain good, clear facts on finances without another layer of government looking at the facts before we get them,” he said.
The National Association of Local Government Auditors prefers the City Council model to the city manager one, said Harriet Richardson, the organization’s president. Elected officials, accountable to their constituents, are more likely than city staff to respond to problems in the various city departments.
“It’s a question of the reporting and the ability to make change. A council can tell the city manager ‘You will implement this change and make sure all the reports get issued,’ ” she said.
With a city manager model, however, Richardson noted it’s “not uncommon” for managers to refuse to release audit reports to the public in the midst of a controversy. After all, it’s their staff being audited, and they would ultimately be responsible for any problems.
Of all the cities in the Valley that are members of the National Association of Local Government Auditors, only Scottsdale’s auditors report to a city council. The rest — Mesa, Glendale, Phoenix and Tempe — use the citymanager model, Richardson said.
Maricopa County does, however, have a similar system to Scottsdale’s. The county auditors report to the Board of Supervisors. County auditor Ross Tate, who also is a board member of the National Association of Local Government Auditors, said bigger cities such as Mesa would probably benefit from a switch.
Mesa’s current auditing team consists of acting city auditor Gary Ray and three other auditors. There are twovacant positions in the department that the city may try to fill in the coming year. A total of $601,043 is slated for the current auditing department’s 2006-07 preliminary budget.
The city also has set aside $374,000 for the new auditing department, according to budget documents. It would pay for a city auditor and three additional staff members.
The two offices would remain completely separate, and city officials insist they each would be doing different types of control checks on city programs and services.
Regardless of the outcome on election day, the current auditing department will work on smaller financial audits, program audits and compliance audits. This could be anything from checking to make sure there is no money missing from the Mesa Southwest Museum or ensuring that Housing and Urban Renewal are using federal dollars correctly, Griswold said.
The new office, however, would focus on the “bigger picture” in terms of how well citywide operations are running, Bleyle said.
The office would examine efficiency issues, which haven’t been done before in Mesa, Griswold said. Conducting efficiency audits will help public officials decide whether to eliminate, combine or bolster various city departments, he said.
“We’re always going to continue to do financial audits in terms of cash-management procedures and making sure our accounting practices are in order,” said Bryan Raines, the city’s financial services manager.
“(The new office) will look at bigger issues: Should we privatize an activity? Should we sell our electric utilities?”
But Richardson noted that divvying up the duties between the departments is quite unusual, and many tasks might end up overlapping. Generally, a city will have only one auditing department to perform both compliance and efficiency audits, she said.
There is yet another measure on Tuesday’s ballot — Proposition 100 — which has received little attention, though it could change the process Mesa uses to zone properties.
Voters will decide whether to streamline the way the city changes its land-use designations by removing a step in the rezoning process.
Currently ordinances pertaining to the city’s zoning codes have to go through a series of public hearings, including neighborhood meetings, planning and zoning board hearings, an introduction of the change at a City Council meeting, and then another council meeting for a final vote.
If the measure passes, the council could take up a final vote at the same meeting in which the ordinance was introduced.
Supporters say it would eliminate a duplicate process.
Critics say it limits the public’s exposure to and ability to comment on zoning changes.