Update: On Wednesday, May 23, the Palo Alto City Council's Finance Committee reversed its recommendation to eliminate five of six positions in the Office of the City Auditor. Read the story here.
City Auditor Harriett Richardson. Image courtesy city of Palo Alto.
Under the proposal, which the committee unanimously approved, the small office that conducts performance audits on various city departments will lose five of its six positions. The only position that will be retained is that of City Auditor Harriet Richardson, who will be now charged with relying on outside auditing firms to perform the office's tasks.
The full City Council is scheduled to review and potentially approve the staffing cuts next month, when it approves the budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins on July 1.
The Office of the City Auditor is the only city department that saw the significant shift during the Finance Committee's two-day review of City Manager James Keene's proposed budget, which includes a $214-million General Fund, an increase of 1.7 percent over the prior year. The proposed budget already cuts 16 full-time-equivalent positions, including 11 in the Fire Department.
The move to eliminate city auditors was prompted by Councilman Greg Scharff, chair of the committee, who said he was concerned about the recent level of productivity in the office. According to the budget document, the department completed 1.2 "work products" per audit staff in the current fiscal year, compared to 1.67 in the prior year.
"I think we're not getting the amount of audits we should get," Scharff said.
In making the motion to restructure the office, Scharff recommended that Richardson use 80 percent of the funds saved from the position reductions to hire outside firms to conduct performance audits.
His three committee colleagues -- Vice Chair Eric Filseth, Councilman Greg Tanaka and Councilwoman Lydia Kou -- all agreed to turn to the private sector for audits, which Tanaka called "a good move."
Richardson didn't offer any objections to the proposal, noting that it's not uncommon for government organizations to rely on outside firms for help.
"I will be picky in selecting those firms to ensure we get firms that get actual performance audit experience," Richardson said.