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The City and County of Denver currently has an independently elected city auditor. Boulder does not.

According to its current website, the Denver Auditor’s Office conducts “independent audits of city agencies to help mitigate identified risks in order to enhance efficiency and effectiveness, reduce costs, and improve the quality of services.” In addition, the DCA’s Audit Plan states that its audits can help “encourage equity … for programs and agencies across the city.”

Timothy ThomasFor the Camera
Timothy ThomasFor the Camera

The five foundations of DCA’s office legitimacy and authority are an independently elected auditor, an independent audit committee, comprehensive access to departmental records and staff, agency audit response requirements, and the DCA’s adherence to professional audit standards. The DCA’s office uses an integrated approach of performance, financial, information technology and contract compliance audits.

A visit to the city auditor’s website reveals an annual Audit Plan as well as hundreds of internal audits. The audits cover virtually every Denver agency and major initiative. For example, if you read the DCA’s audit of Denver’s golf course operations, the report not only notes the lack of good financial controls or a written strategic plan, it also notes there are “several safety and aesthetic details that should be addressed [that] would improve customer experience overall.” The DCA’s office is not just about criticism, it appears to promote excellence in the provision of city services.

The current DCA is a CPA with over 40 years of experience. His Audit Plan lays out audits for the upcoming year. Homeless encampments, mental health services, police operations, cyber security and affordable housing are but a few of the more than two dozen planned audits. This is in stark contrast to the way Boulder’s budget process and agency oversight works.

Boulder’s current budget process usually consists of departments submitting yearly budget proposals of whatever last year’s budget allocation was plus an annual increase. The City Council is usually faced with the choice of agreeing with the budget or rejecting it, in which case the city has little or no options.

Our current audits only look at the financials with little to no regard to how money is spent or how well agencies do their jobs. Performance Audits are not part of the process. City Council members have neither the time, expertise or, in some cases, the inclination to get into the nitty-gritty of how effective, efficient and equitable city departments are achieving their individual and combined missions and goals.

Boulder needs a professional, independently elected auditor of the same type as Denver.

I can anticipate two arguments from those who might be against this proposal. The first is that we don’t have a problem. Our audits come out great and we have an excellent credit rating. But, how hard are we looking? Do we currently have the type of validation and fraud protection processes that would expose such problems? Are we sure that our departments are functioning up to their full potential?

The second argument against would be that we are not as big as Denver and can’t afford it. But, Colorado Springs also has an independent city auditor that conducts performance audits, and that city does it with a budget approximately 20% less than Boulder’s. If they can do it, so can we. Further, the waste that an auditor could expose might well more than pay for the office.

How do we really know if we are successful as a city in achieving our goals? We can’t unless there is a structured process of accountability. Denver has that accountability by way of the DCA’s office’s financial oversight and performance measurements. Boulder should have the same.

I wish we all lived in a world where all employees excelled at their jobs and city departments could be trusted, without oversight, to perform their given tasks to the complete expectations of the citizens who fund them. But we don’t. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “we must trust but verify.” We need an independent city auditor.

Timothy Thomas is a former member of the Boulder County Democrats Executive Committee and a former member of the CU Environmental Center’s Environmental Justice Steering Committee.