After learning in October the City of Palo Alto had only enacted five out of City Auditor Sharon Erickson's 93 remaining recommendations, the committee, expressing concern, asked for the first time for a response from the city's management staff.
On Tuesday, City Manager Frank Benest proposed reviewing the list of audit recommendations twice a year, rather than only once.
"That will help keep us on track in a more structured way," Benest said.
The city wasn't ducking Erickson's recommendations on reforms — ranging from consolidating code-enforcement activities, slashing Fire Department overtime expenditures and coordinating work that requires tearing up streets — Benest and Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison said.
Sometimes the recommendations — such as requiring Fire Department officials to work overtime only within their rank, saving the city from paying the higher salary rate — were overshadowed by more important issues, such as reducing health-care costs while bargaining with the union, Benest said.
The overtime costs can't be addressed until the contract expires in 2010, he said.
Oother times city staff members develop a different solution to a problem identified by Erickson, Harrison said.
Erickson's 2006 audit of street maintenance prompted the city to focus on the roadways' problems, but it might work better to address them in a different way than Erickson recommended, Harrison said.
Rather than dividing the city into roadwork zones, the city has simply amped up coordination efforts between the Utilities Department, Public Works and other divisions that slice streets, Harrison said.
Erickson said she agreed to classify the road recommendation as "in process" until she is satisfied the city's approach is addressing the underlying problem — constantly bumpy, potholed streets.
And other times, Erickson's recommendations just aren't feasible right now, Benest said.
For example, complying with her recommendation to consolidate code enforcement, which currently falls to the planning, public works and police departments, among others, would be useful but too expensive, he said.
But the recommendations, and their implementation, aren't "meant to be a bureaucratic exercise," Erickson said.
"Residents want smooth streets, and they want one place to call for code enforcement. I hope we can focus on the purpose of the audit, (which) is to focus on ways we can improve service," Erickson said.
She said she tries to be flexible and work with staff to find a solution to the problem. But she argued that it's important to keep recommendations on the list until they are completely resolved. Otherwise, they are forgotten.
Currently, recommendations are classified as completed, in process or not started, a simple system suggested by the City Council several years ago, Erickson said.
But really, a recommendation's classification shouldn't matter — it's either complete with a reform in place, or it's not, she said.
Erickson said she doesn't think her standards for taking recommendations off the list are too high.
"We're shooting for a service level that the average person would say, 'Yeah, that's the right answer,'" she said.