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A plan for a better city… or a power grab?

Measures would change city charter regarding city auditor’s purview and authority.

Long+Beach+elected+officials+say+the+four+measures+they+have+placed+on+next+month%27s+ballot+will+lead+to+%22a+better+Long+Beach.%22+Several+local+grassroots+community+groups+claim+the+reasons+given+for+the+measures+are+unfounded.%C2%A0This+week%2C+the+Signal+Tribune+focused+on+information+about+Measure+AAA.+Part+2+next+week+will+focus+on+the+other+three+measures.+
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A plan for a better city… or a power grab?

Long Beach elected officials say the four measures they have placed on next month's ballot will lead to

Long Beach elected officials say the four measures they have placed on next month's ballot will lead to "a better Long Beach." Several local grassroots community groups claim the reasons given for the measures are unfounded. This week, the Signal Tribune focused on information about Measure AAA. Part 2 next week will focus on the other three measures.

Photo illustration by Sebastian Echeverry, Denny Cristales, Barbie Ellisen | Signal Tribune

Long Beach elected officials say the four measures they have placed on next month's ballot will lead to "a better Long Beach." Several local grassroots community groups claim the reasons given for the measures are unfounded. This week, the Signal Tribune focused on information about Measure AAA. Part 2 next week will focus on the other three measures.

Photo illustration by Sebastian Echeverry, Denny Cristales, Barbie Ellisen | Signal Tribune

Photo illustration by Sebastian Echeverry, Denny Cristales, Barbie Ellisen | Signal Tribune

Long Beach elected officials say the four measures they have placed on next month's ballot will lead to "a better Long Beach." Several local grassroots community groups claim the reasons given for the measures are unfounded. This week, the Signal Tribune focused on information about Measure AAA. Part 2 next week will focus on the other three measures.

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Next month, Long Beach residents will have the power to give even more power to the current and future elected officials of the city, thanks to four measures the mayor and city council have placed on the ballot for voter consideration.

AAA, BBB, CCC and DDD– all charter-amendment measures that Mayor Robert Garcia and City Auditor Laura Doud have proposed and that the city council approved unanimously– are “good government” moves, according to abetterlongbeach.com, the website for the Mayor Robert Garcia and City Auditor Laura Doud Committee to Support Good Government Measures AAA BBB CCC DDD. The measures aim to “make Long Beach’s government more effective, efficient, and ethical,” according to the website, which also refers to the measures as “smart reforms that create a more open and responsive city government.”

But those are unfounded claims, according to some local community groups that have joined together in slamming all four measures.  

In late August, the Long Beach Reform Coalition (LBRC) announced its formation as an alliance of grassroots organizations aiming to inform the citizenry on those measures. As reported in the Signal Tribune last month, Ian Patton, the principal of Cal Heights Conservancy (which led the unsuccessful effort to recall 2nd District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce earlier this year), said his coalition is hoping to “be out there for ‘the little guy.’”

Patton and his group are not alone in their plan to serve as watchdog for the city’s residents. People of Long Beach (POLB) is yet another grassroots organization with its eyes on those propositions.  
Carlos Ovalle, POLB’s executive director, has been critical of all four measures in public meetings and on social media.  

The Signal Tribune last week reached out to the mayor, the city auditor and all nine councilmembers by sending questions about the measures to at least two email addresses per district office, as well as following up with phone calls to several of those offices.  

Only one council district office responded, but not with answers to the questions.

Celina Luna, chief of staff for 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga, wrote in an emailed reply that she had forwarded the request for information to Kevin Lee, public-affairs officer with the city manager’s office, because he “is handling all press requests as it relates to the charter amendments.”

The Signal Tribune emailed Lee, who indicated in his emailed response that answering the questions would be out of his jurisdiction and that the city manager’s office is “in the world of straight-up informational content on the measures.”

However, Doud and Mark Taylor, who is serving as the spokesperson on behalf of the campaign to support the measures, did indeed respond with answers to the questions. (Taylor is also Garcia’s chief of staff.)

The Signal Tribune also reached out to Ovalle with questions about why his group opposes all four measures.

Measure AAA
The first measure proposes to amend sections 803 and 806 of the city charter, relating to the duties of the city auditor and clarifying her/his access to City records.

“Measure AAA strengthens the city auditor by authorizing the city auditor to conduct performance audits of the operations and management of all departments, boards, agencies, commissions and offices,” according to abetterlongbeach.com. “Measure AAA also authorizes the city auditor to access and examine all City records needed to conduct financial and performance audits. Passage of this amendment will enable the city auditor to more effectively perform their job as an objective and independent watchdog of public resources and assures Long Beach taxpayer money is spent efficiently, appropriately, and always with the best quality of service in mind.”

Signal Tribune: I understand that you support the measure, but can you explain why?

Laura Doud: Given the complexity of today’s government organizations, an effective city auditor must be able to conduct not only financial audits, but also performance audits that evaluate government operations and management. To conduct these performance audits, the city auditor requires access to all City records and documents, not just financial-related records. However, the existing city charter language governing the city auditor’s authority was written over a century ago, when audits were strictly focused on the City’s finances and when access was restricted to financial records.
Measure AAA is important because it does two things: 1) explicitly allows the city auditor to conduct performance audits, in addition to financial audits, of any City department, agency or commission; and 2) requires the City to grant the city auditor with access to all City records, not just contracts and financial records.

The two provisions of Measure AAA are not exceptional. California cities with known internal audit functions indicate that these audit organizations all have charter provisions or other authorizing documents that authorize their city auditors to conduct performance audits and provide their city auditors with access to all city records. These jurisdictions include Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley.

ST: How will the measure, if passed, help your office conduct its business?

LD: Long Beach voters bestowed upon me the responsibility to serve as an independent steward of the City’s resources. I am honored to have been granted the public’s trust and take this responsibility with the utmost seriousness. For these reasons, since assuming office, I have raised the bar with respect to the quality and professionalism of audit work by ensuring adherence to modern government auditing standards established by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO’s government auditing standards guide local, state and federal government auditors nationwide on how to effectively conduct financial audits and performance audits. According to these standards and to every other authority on auditing and accounting (i.e., Institute of Internal Auditors and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants), the unrestricted ability to examine records deemed necessary is an absolute requirement to perform an effective audit. Otherwise, the findings and conclusions of an audit could be compromised. The GAO warns government entities against the “restrictions on access to records, government officials, or other individuals needed to conduct an audit.” Such restrictions could mean that the auditors “will not detect a mistake, inconsistency, significant error, or fraud in the evidence.”

It is noteworthy that the city charter requires the city auditor be a current certified public accountant, recognizing the importance that the person who holds this office possesses the appropriate knowledge, training and experience in auditing. Furthermore, many of our auditors are rigorously certified by the Institute of Internal Auditors and must adhere to their professional standards. Conducting audits without the opportunity to examine all the necessary records and evidence is contrary to what CPAs, auditors and the profession represent.

We’re already doing these performance audits, but what’s happened over the past few years is that there’s a disconnect between what the charter says and what we’re actually doing today. Measure AAA will update the charter language to ensure that city auditors are empowered to conduct performance audits and to examine all necessary City records without restriction. Over the years, the city auditor has obtained non-financial City records and conducted performance audits of City operations, but has been challenged in the past regarding access to some documents and performing certain types of audits. These limitations create inefficiencies for auditors, restrict the scope of audits and recommendations. Measure AAA would eliminate these challenges to the city auditor’s authority.

ST: Opponents to the measure have claimed that AAA actually has the potential to allow for corruption concerning contracts and how the City’s funds are managed. What would you say to this criticism?
LD: Voters need to know that the changes being proposed in Measure AAA strengthen the authority of the city auditor. Measure AAA ensures the city auditor can continue conducting performance audits, not just financial audits, without restriction. Measure AAA ensures that City departments and offices must provide the City Auditor with access to all City records, not just financial records.

Let me clarify a few important things: [With regard] to access to records, the replacement of the word “timely” from “immediate” is reasonable and consistent with the charter language of other cities in California with a city auditor. The city auditor’s office has always been cognizant of the fact that providing records requires time and effort on the part of City employees. The office has always given City employees a reasonable timeframe within which to provide requested records to our office. Any unreasonable delay in providing such records would be addressed with city management, mayor and/or city council.

Measure AAA does not remove the current charter provision that gives the city auditor the ability to receive certified copies of all City contracts. Authorizing the city auditor to conduct performance audits and to have access to all City records enables the city auditor to promote good government, transparency and accountability in an ever-changing Long Beach city government.

In fact, this can be seen in audits we’ve conducted related to City contract oversight. We are the only office that has objectively reviewed the City’s administration and oversight of contracts, identified risks and made recommendations for contract oversight improvement.

ST: Regarding Measure AAA, opponents have used the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” What was the impetus for putting AAA on the ballot? In other words, what is “broken” that needs to be fixed?

Mark Taylor: Currently, the charter only allows city auditor to do financial audits. Measure AAA would update the city charter to specifically empower the city auditor to do performance audits and to provide access to the records required to do that work. This change is needed to ensure that the city auditor has the power needed to improve effectiveness of our government. Those audits only happen now with cooperation from [the] city manager and city attorney.

ST: Considering one may argue that the mayor’s, the city auditor’s and the council’s intentions seem logical, why are you still opposed to the measure?

Carlos Ovalle: The current charter does not explicitly state that the auditor’s office can or cannot do performance audits, but it is understood that these audits are good practice and in keeping with generally accepted government auditing standards. Nobody in government would ask the city auditor to not do the performance audits that have won that office many accolades. (I refer you to the auditor’s office press releases over the years.)

However, we feel that this and other minor changes are simply a smoke screen to hide the fact that the measure takes away the right of the city auditor to request documents immediately, instead replacing that with “timely.” What does “timely” mean? It means nothing when it comes to requesting documents from the City; it allows for the possibility to delay these requests as long as necessary for documents to get lost [or] altered, or other documents created to alter the results. We’re not saying that certain departments will do things against the law, but as the recent and ongoing TigerText fiasco shows,  we never know. Documents requested by [another newspaper] with regard to TigerText have yet to be released months after the initial request.

The Signal Tribune will publish part 2 of this story in next week’s issue.

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A plan for a better city… or a power grab?