By Paul Wolf
Former Buffalo Common Council Member Brian Davis was recently sentenced to one year in prison for stealing taxpayer dollars that he controlled through discretionary funding that is provided to all Council members.
The Buffalo City Charter states one of the responsibilities of the city comptroller as:
“The comptroller shall engage an independent consultant to conduct an audit of the performance of the Council staff every two years.”
All of the audits completed by the Buffalo Comptroller’s Office since 2002 are listed on the City of Buffalo’s website. According to the list, an “independent” audit of the Council has not been done every two years as required by the City Charter. In fact, it appears that the only audit completed of the Council staff in the past 10 years was in 2009. That Council staff audit was done by the city comptroller and not by an independent auditor as required by the City Charter.
Perhaps an outside auditor would have discovered that internal controls over discretionary funds were lacking and the Davis situation could have been prevented or discovered earlier.
In addition to an independent audit of the Common Council, the City Charter requires that:
“The comptroller shall have the power to conduct performance audits of all bureaus, offices, departments, boards, commissions, activities, functions, programs, agencies and other entities or services of the city to determine whether their activities and programs are: (i) conducted in compliance with applicable law and regulation; and (ii) conducted efficiently and effectively to accomplish their intended objectives. In addition to such audits as the comptroller may conduct with his or her own staff, the comptroller shall engage an independent consultant to conduct at least two such performance audits each year.”
Performance audits are different than financial audits in that they focus on whether programs are complying with regulations, operating efficiently and accomplishing intended objectives. A review of the past audits listed on the City of Buffalo website reveals that not a single performance audit has been conducted by an independent consultant as required by the City Charter.
While there is a cost to hiring outside consultants, it is important to have independent perspectives on what is taking place in City Hall. To his credit, City Comptroller Mark Schroeder has brought in outside experts from the University at Buffalo to examine the operations of the Comptroller’s Office and they will make recommendations for improvement. That same approach of bringing in outside independent expertise needs to take place in other City Hall departments as required by the City Charter.
Paul Wolf is president of the Center for Reinventing Government.