City reforms auditors office

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By Todd Bensman

November 2008


    The San Antonio City Council has voted to enhance the ability of the auditor’s office to work without the kind of political interference that nearly left widespread playground safety problems undiscovered this past summer.

    The 8-2 vote to double the number of council oversight committee members, and to add citizen overseers, came in response to a series of Express-News stories in June that exposed how city leaders quashed an auditor plan to review playground safety inspection practices.

    The Express-News stories were published after the only two previous committee members, with support from Mayor Phil Hardberger and City Manager Sheryl Sculley, forced Auditor Pete Gonzalez, Jr. to resign for proposing the audit.

     The stories then showed that Gonzalez, had he been allowed to proceed, would have uncovered serious and widespread playground safety problems and a virtually nonexistent inspection regimen that top parks officials had publicly said existed.

      Public outrage over the stories prompted Mayor Hardberger to establish an ad hoc committee to propose ways to limit opportunities for political meddling in auditor affairs.

    At issue in those ad hoc meetings was whether it would be more difficult for city staff, perhaps unhappy to find their departments targeted by an auditor, to improperly pressure a larger number of committee members than the just the two who were on it before.

   In addition to adding new members to the oversight committee, the council also expanded the kinds of audits that can be performed.

   City council member John Clamp and Delicia Hererra were the two council oversight committee members who quashed the playground audit. Clamp voted against the reforms and remains on the panel.

   The presence of civilian members on the audit oversight committee would make influencing them along with all the other members a more difficult feat for a city manager or top staff who may not be eager to see a particular area of operations audited.

   No evidence has surfaced that Sculley, Hardberger, or any of their staffs pressured Clamp and Hererra to stop the playground audit, although Gonzalez has always insisted they did.

   In an interview, Gonzalez said the increased numbers on the panel will “make it harder to influence” it.

   But he said the council fell short on the job, he said: Clamp should have been removed for allowing Sculley to influence him at the expense of city playground safety.

   “They should have removed Clamp from that audit committee once the newspaper disclosed what had happened,” Gonzalez said. “He did not perform his fiduciary responsibilities as the chair person of the audit subcommittee. They were controlled by Sculley.”

   Sculley has repeatedly declined requests for comment about the playground audit controversy and offered no public comment on the latest changes.

   Before he was forced to resign for proposing the playground inspections audit, Gonzalez was the city’s third to hold that job since it was established in 2001, ostensibly to enhance public accountability.

   In the wake of the Express-News June stories, parks director Malcolm Matthews was forced to resign, along with one subordinate. Others with playground maintenance oversight were demoted or reassigned.

    Read the Express-News story of the council vote HERE

    Scroll down for the original stories HERE