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Auditors slam plan to reform their office

Original post made on Jan 24, 2020

A proposal to reform the City Auditor's Office is facing pushback and a threat of a lawsuit from employees of the department, which has been hobbled for years by leadership turnover and internal bickering.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, January 24, 2020, 6:53 AM

Comments (21)

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2020 at 11:20 am

I’m kind of old-school about democracy and striving towards self governance so I get upset anytime leadership tries to farm out some of its duties, or our duties.
I’m saying keep the auditor in house.

Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 24, 2020 at 11:50 am

Please increase the public's trust and faith in City government by following the City Charter, appointing a City auditor and keeping the Auditor independent of the City Manager's office.

Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2020 at 1:49 pm

Having the City Auditor report to the City Manager is like having a fox watch over the chickens in the henhouse. How ridiculous.

Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2020 at 9:11 pm

So this saga/drama continues. Boussina's letter makes several references to his "ethical responsibilities" to highlight former auditor Richardson's mismanagement but this article and previous ones have said that investigations did not find her guilty of any wrongdoing. Now he says he has an ethical responsibility to point out the flaws in the Harper report. [Portion removed.] Please end this drama and fire the problem staff and hire a city auditor. But please don't put the Auditors Office under the city manager.

Posted by HereWeGoAgain
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2020 at 12:12 am

Actually, Boussina is a very ethical guy. Ask anybody who's worked with him either at the San Francisco Auditor's Office or at Palo Alto. He's got a great reputation (both for honesty and auditing skill), and has produced many award-winning audits. He doesn't lie, and is meticulous in documenting things, so I'd love to see what he has on this whole debacle! If the investigations of Richardson showed no evidence of wrongdoing, they were probably consultants who were paid to hear what the City Council wanted to hear. Or, were investigations under the City Manager's Office, who were probably delighted with Ms. Richardson's mismanagement, and would never have wanted any "black marks" against her, since a competent City Auditor would be making the CM Office's life Hell, as it should be.

And, yes, Boussina had an ethical obligation to point out the flaws in the Harper report (what does that have to do with ego?). And he isn't the only one who has done so. He's in the company of many who have questioned this report.

My money's on Boussina.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2020 at 8:08 am

The last thing we need is an auditor's office that reports to the city manager. What a waste of money.

We need an independent auditor. That is the whole point.

Also, the report from Harper and Assoc. sounds mostly worthless. Government financials work differently from private industry-- and should. Government funds from different sources that are legally required to be spent on certain programs have to be clearly sequestered in ways that are foreign to private industry. There is no single quarterly bottom line, and taxpayers demand that appropriated program funds not be mixed or redirected at the discretion of managers.

Let's appoint a new city auditor and move on with the auditing.

Posted by legal-beagle
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2020 at 10:44 am

It's obvious City management is trying to obfuscate the public and find a path whereby there is no proper checks and balances over City management and how it conducts business with taxpayer funds. If the City continues down a pathway whereby it is seeking every possible means to dissolve and/or impede the auditors from doing their job, then the City is subjecting the taxpayers to a system ripe for abuse by City management, as well as possible lawsuits due to their constructive termination of the auditor's office. City Council, do your job and hire an auditor.... you've sat on this for over a year and look at the result from your inaction and undue influence by the City Manager.

Posted by CT
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2020 at 11:07 am

The City Managers office is known for not filling in positions. As far as I know, the last CIO resigned In late 2018 after an investigation was opened. No idea what is happening to that position. Has it been filled? What about the library? Why does the city have so many interim positions? Does the city manager not realize that interim positions don’t achieve much. They just keep the lights on because they are not in a position to make big decisions. Oh well, ED is showing his true colors now.

Posted by More to the Story?
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2020 at 4:31 pm

Boussina’s letter was courageous.

Why is there so much attention on this small office that according to its website exists to promote honest, efficient, effective, and fully accountable city government? Could it be that the City Council and City Manager’s Office don’t want the public to know its problems and be fully accountable?

According to Boussina’s letter, staff suffered mismanagement, misconduct, and retaliation under Richardson. If this is true, does this go beyond her tenure in Palo Alto? How many people have been affected?

What about the City and how it handles complaints from employees? The City hired a consultant to assist with grievances and complaints. A City Council Staff Report indicated that since July 2016, 90 employment related cases had been received and of which 50 have been resolved and with 40 cases currently being worked through.

Have others had complaints about City management? Is there a similar pattern of behavior with staff in other departments? Would be interesting to hear the experience of present and past City staff.

Web Link

So many unanswered questions. My guess is there is so much more to the story.

Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2020 at 8:22 am

It appears that city management has already exposed the taxpayers to litigation settlements by their failing and mismanagement in not hiring an auditor. In the December 16, 2019 council board packet that is available on the city's website, it notes litigation by an auditor employee against the city regarding California Labor Standards. The city cites government code 54956.9(d)(2) in the board packet which states: A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the local agency.

Both city management and council members have failed miserably on this by not hiring an auditor. With no captain at the helm, the office has not met the expectations of city management nor the council. Simple solution: Hire an Auditor!!! Your mismanagement of this situation has already cost the taxpayers $$$$$ and your continued impudence only exposes taxpayers to further liability.

Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 26, 2020 at 9:02 am

City council - please hire a City Auditor.

Posted by Captain Obvious
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2020 at 9:55 am

Only two reasons for the City Manager to want the Audit Dep’t administration task: 1. It’s efficient and the CM’s motives are pure, so they believe nothing bad will come of it. 2. The motives aren’t pure.
The problem with #1 is that it presumes the CM’s motives will always be pure going forward, forever. That’s unrealistic. Don’t put the auditors under the CM.

Posted by Balloter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2020 at 5:42 pm

If the City does decide to try and hire an auditor, will they even be able to recruit a professional willing to take on an office that has stalled out with a City Manager who is gunning to have total control and oversight of an office that is supposed to be independent from his power and authority? Most likely only second or third-tier candidates for the Auditor’s position would be willing to subject themselves to such an environment.

The City is at a crossroads and now that the public knows what’s going on, they either need to fill the Auditor’s position or get rid of the Auditor’s position. You can’t keep hiring consultants and interim substitutes to “keep the lights on.” This method has not worked and you’ve wasted a year’s worth of auditing of the City’s business practices simply by sitting on your hands. As the old saying goes, “go” or get off the pot! The City Manager and Council need to be held accountable for their incompetence and mishandling of this matter. Good luck with finding positive verbiage to include in your recruitment advertisement for the Auditor's position.

Posted by fishy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2020 at 9:46 pm

a resident of another community

"Actually, Boussina is a very ethical guy. Ask anybody who's worked with him either at the San Francisco Auditor's Office or at Palo Alto."

San Francisco Auditor's Office? That doesn't necessarily give me any confidence

Or that someone from another community is so quick to post on this thread which is not exactly breaking news.

Something strange is going on here if only with the messy story and hard to keep track of the cast of characters.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2020 at 11:00 pm

@Balloter - I think you are completely correct about only getting a second or third-tier candidate. With national audit organizations weighing in on this, I can't help but think that a lot of auditors around the country know what's going on here and would not be willing to take a chance on it. That is even more true if they contract out the audits and just have a city auditor there to do what - manage contracts?

I also agree with @fishy that there is something strange going on here, obviously much more than what we know, but my guess is the "prolonged conflict" is at least part of the issue. For the heck of it, I Googled both Boussina and Richardson to see what information is out there about them. One of the first things that comes up for Boussina is that he was appointed as the acting city auditor in September 2013 while the city conducted a national search for a new city auditor. An article comes up about Richardson saying she was appointed city auditor in April 2014. So he would have had several months to show the council that he was deserving of the permanent appointment, but I'm assuming he applied for the position and Richardson got it over him. If so, I have to wonder if some of the issue between Boussina and Richardson was jealously on Boussina's part because he didn't get a job that he coveted and felt he deserved and then decided to make life rough on Richardson so she would leave and he would have another shot at the position. He likely has a very different management style than Richardson and seems to have made that the focus of his complaints. I also saw very little about Boussina's career as an auditor (but I did learn that he plays the violin!), but there is a lot out there about Richardson's, including several awards, that she was past president of the Association of Local Government Auditors (one of the organizations that wrote a letter to the council on this issue), that she gives a lot of presentations on audit topics, and she was appointed by the Comptroller General of the United States to his Advisory Council on the Government Auditing Standards. I realize that those things don't address her management style, but I also don't think someone could have accomplished what she has without being at least a decent manager. And when I looked up the Advisory Council, I saw that there are only 17 people on it from around the country and they are labeled as "experts." All of this makes me question the legitimacy of the accusations in Boussina's letter.

Posted by HereWeGoAgain
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2020 at 5:48 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by An auditor
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2020 at 11:25 pm

I can’t speak about Richardson, having never worked with her, but I worked with Houman for several years. His integrity, hard work and auditing skills were all of the highest standard.

Posted by HereWeGoAgain
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2020 at 11:58 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2020 at 12:41 pm

I'm not sure what the latest on this is (someone revived a slightly dated thread), but, I still haven't seen any reason why they can't just appoint a new auditor and move on.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2020 at 1:04 pm

Why? Because they might not want the oversight of the waste. The latest example is the $7,000,000 spent on planning, constructing and defending unsafe roundabouts, 2 of which will mow be removed and several which will be stopped. Web Link

Another example is the City Manager's compensation package that gives him an extra year of salary, benefits and vesting if he's FIRED from his job. Remember how we was the ONLY candidate considered yet the CC felt that it was critical to give him the highest possible compensation including a $4,000,000 house.

There's the $20,000,000 "surplus" PA Utilities has run for the last several years by over-charging us so it can keep spending. Funny how fiscal management and cost-effectiveness never show up as city priorities.

Posted by A City Employer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2020 at 3:08 pm

@Here We Go Again - I've worked here since before Richardson came on board and know that she was in the office on a regular schedule, just like the other employees in the office, so no need to bash her with false statements.

@Anon - I think this thread was revived by Here We Go Again after that same or very similar post by him/her was previously removed.

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