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To stifle discord, Palo Alto prepares to shake-up auditor's office

Original post made on Feb 11, 2020

The Palo Alto City Auditor's Office may soon see the biggest shake-up in its 37-year history, after the City Council agreed on Monday to seek an outside firm to manage what has always been an in-house operation.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, February 10, 2020, 10:27 PM

Comments (6)

Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2020 at 9:40 am

Two Words -- City Charter

This council is afraid to do its job, which includes managing the auditor directly. They are going to cost us big-time when lawsuits from aggravated parties come down.

Filseth's comments are most revealing. Don't you know that the auditor reported / reports directly to you? You are saying we can't trust you to be in charge of things?

Well noted.

Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:03 am

Rethinking what I wrote 15 minutes ago.... In fairness to Mr. Filseth, he's just the one who got stuck with the quote. The entire council is essentially ducking their responsibility here. I am mortified at all of them, and should not single him out.

The council asking the "Council Appointed Officers Committee" to draft how this could possibly work without violating the City Charter is another huge attempt to duck responsibility (attempt #2 after commissioning a report that could spare them responsibility went very, very poorly). I'm sure they will ask the City Attorney to prepare some semi-plausible thread of legal viability, if they haven't already.

We will get sued by the employees they are clearly trying to fire indirectly... and yet have no independent audit function. Grow up, guys and gals.

Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2020 at 7:03 am

If city management and the council are both disappointed by the performance of the auditor's office, why did they give Harriet Richardson the maximum performance-based raise each of the five years she was employed by the city? According to Transparent California, Richardson started out receiving $173,944 in 2015 and topped out at $191,287 in 2018. These raises are directly controlled (and given out) by the council. Apparently, the council has been very pleased with the performance of the auditor's office, as evidence by the performance raises the auditor received during her tenure.

Also, the council should look at Assembly Bill 5 as it relates to outsourcing a "core function" of duties/responsibilities of the auditor's office. If you try and outsource, you most likely will be in violation of this new state law. Do your homework council, before you start running your mouths as though you are experts in employment law, and embarrass yourself in front of the city.

What is not noted in the news article is that the council has already crippled the office by eliminating 50% of the staff. There used to be five auditors and the city auditor (for a total of six employees for the office). Within the last two years, the council has eliminated two auditor's positions when two employees of the auditor's office left employment with the city. Now that Richardson has left, the council has stalled on filling her vacant position for over a year, and is now wanting to outsource the auditor's position all in the name of productivity. How can you expect an office to meet your expectations as it relates to putting out product when time after time you eliminate a position of the auditor's office as soon as it becomes vacant? Sounds like a self-fulling prophecy to me..... eh council? Or would you rather complain about the performance of the office when it is running at 50% operational capacity, and with no leader?

For the council to state that they want to outsource in order to avoid having to manage a position that has high turnover is nothing more that side-stepping the council's own responsibilities. If you don't want to do all of the essential functions of your responsibilities as a council member, which includes managing the four council-appointed positions, then you need to step aside and make room for someone who won't whine about difficulties/inconveniences of the position as a council member. You asked for this position as an elected official, and all of the responsibilities that come with it. So quit complaining...... do your job and hire an auditor. Stop making excuses for yourself, your laziness, your lack of ability to fulfill you obligations as a council member, and your own incompetence.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2020 at 8:14 am

Assembly Bill 5 does state that the provision of this measure shall not permit and employer to be able to reclassify job positions in which a person occupying the position was considered an "employee" on January 1, 2019, to an independent contractor simply due to the enactment of the new law. Richardson was still employed as the auditor until February 2019.

The City Council will need to find another solution. By law, you can't outsource the auditors position.

The City Council is putting the taxpayers of Palo Alto on the hook for massive lawsuits due to this talk about outsourcing. The City Council needs to do their job and hire an auditor, which would be an employee of the city, and report directly to the Council as part of the four employee positions they are supposed to oversee.

Posted by Susan
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2020 at 10:44 pm

I was curious about the AB 5 comments and looked it up. I don't think it is as black and white as mentioned above. Although the language says you can't contract out work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business, it also provides exceptions. One of them is for professional services, which I think the Auditor's Office could fall under. I also don't think the comment about not being able to contract out the Auditor because Richardson was there until February 2019 is completely accurate. AB 5 says you can't reclassify an individual who was an employee on January 1, 2019, to an independent contractor. It does not say you can't contract out the position or function after the person leaves. Since AB 5 seems to be to protect individuals, I don't think it applies to the City Auditor. But I do think it applies to the staff who are still there.

Regarding the comments about the council giving Richardson pay increases even though they weren't happy with the office's performance, maybe it was because the council's disappointment was not with her. I recall that when the staff positions were proposed to be cut, she acknowledged publicly that performance was under par and it seemed to be based on conversations she had already had where she said she thought performance should be better. I don't necessarily agree that she should have acknowledged that publicly, but it seems that if she had already discussed it with some councilmembers, she was probably trying to do something about it. It could also be that she got resistance from the staff and that could be one of the reasons that they complained about her management style - she wanted productivity that they either weren't capable of giving or didn't want to give. Richardson had a long history of experience, so I would guess that she knew from other places she worked what was an acceptable level of productivity. The council obviously has some unspoken agenda with the delay in hiring a new city auditor and with their recent actions, which is likely what Sally said - trying to find a way to indirectly fire the staff. If that is the case, I have to questions why something wasn't done about the staff performance much sooner than this. Government has a reputation of being difficult to get rid of bad employees, but this has gone too far.

Posted by Really?
a resident of another community
on Feb 16, 2020 at 12:33 pm

Saw the May 2018 Finance Committee meeting and the February 10th Council meeting. The City and Council want to portray this as a staff productivity issue. I call bs on that.

Regarding not auditing risk areas – the former mayor even acknowledged that it is the Council that approves the workplan of the auditor. If Council wanted different audits, it should have so directed the auditor.

Regarding having too many outstanding recommendations, the auditor makes recommendations but it is the Council’s responsibility to hold the city manager accountable to implement the recommendations.

Council was aware of productivity concerns raised by staff in August 2018 and maybe even earlier than that. From the looks of it, Council tried to buy a consultant report to support their already made decision to outsource the office and get rid of complaining staff.

This reeks of whistleblower retaliation.

Maybe a civil grand jury investigation is in order?

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