In the latest Around Town column, the Palo Alto City Auditor's Office will face an audit of its own, work is scheduled to start on a critical segment of the Bay Trail and a new voting system is set to debut next year.
THE AUDITED ... For decades, the City Auditor's Office has led the charge on identifying flaws in Palo Alto's programs and shortcomings in its facilities. Its scathing review of the local animal shelter has helped spur the City Council to commit to short-term infrastructure improvements and a long-term partnership with the nonprofit Pets In Need to operate the beleaguered facility. Its audit of the business license tax program has shown the program to be inaccurate and unreliable. Its recent look at Palo Alto's code-enforcement program has revealed a slew of flaws in how the program is administered and in how the city communicates with residents. Now, the five-person office is itself undergoing an audit of sorts — one with existential implications for its operation. The city has recently approved a $32,780 contract with the firm Kevin Harper, CPA and Associates, to perform an "organizational review" of the City Auditor's Office. The review will consider what other cities are doing and evaluate whether some of the functions of the office should be placed under the purview of the city manager, a move that could effectively eliminate its independence. The review is taking place at a time of flux for the office, which has been without a permanent leader since February, when City Auditor Harriett Richardson resigned (in June, Richardson was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to serve as BART's inspector general — the first person to hold that position). Though the city auditor position was established by voters and is required by City Charter, the council has not been in a rush to replace Richardson (the office is now overseen by a consultant, Don Rhoads). Last year, council members flirted with the idea of eliminating all the positions in the office except the city auditor, though they backed away in the face of community opposition. The city auditor position is one of four that is selected directly by the council — along with city manager, city attorney and city clerk.
FILLING THE GAP ... A project that bicyclists, runners and hikers have long awaited for is set to begin later this month. The Ravenswood Bay Trail is expected to begin construction, which has forced the closure of Ravenswood Open Space Preserve and its parking lot starting Monday, Aug. 19, through Jan. 31, according to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Visitors may also face traffic control on roadways as crews bring in large equipment and materials to the site, where they'll work on the 0.6-mile gap between the preserve and University Avenue that runs between East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Construction vehicles are expected on Bay Road, University Avenue and the gate at the end of Fordham Street. Once the project is completed next summer, it'll provide a complete 80-mile connection from Menlo Park to Sunnyvale and across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay. Currently, the trail at the preserve hits a dead end farther north, near the former Dumbarton rail line. For more information on the project, visit openspace.org.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW ... Once local voters head to the polls next year, they'll get to experience Santa Clara County's new voting system, which will be updated for the first time since 2003. The Board of Supervisors approved the upgrade to the Dominions Voting Systems model at its Tuesday meeting, which came after years of consultation and discussion about the best replacement at the Registrar of Voters. "We are looking forward to this change," Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey said in a news release. "We think voters will like the new system, and we appreciate the increase in performance and processing speed the new voting system will bring, as well as its stringent vote-security measures." Voters will notice new ballot scanners, tabulators and ballot-marking devices complaint with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The most significant change will come on election night when the system will remotely tabulate ballots submitted at each vote center, providing for quicker results. Currently, ballots must be sent back to the Registrar's main office where they are tabulated. The system will cost $15 million for an eight-year lease, with $5.6 million potentially offset through a state reimbursement for modernizing the voting system.