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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


The Latest Call for Duplicate Audits

The Sunday Pioneer Press includes an article about a petition seeking signatures to ask the State Auditor to examine Maplewood's books. Leading the petition drive is Elizabeth Sletten, one of former Mayor Diana Longrie's most devoted fans (you may also remember her as one of the candidates in last year's city council primary), and Longrie herself.

Long-time readers of my blog may recall that we've talked about this before. As my term began in 2008, I seriously considered whether we should ask the State Auditor to look at our books, after the mismanagement and incompetence of the Longrie-Copeland era. You can read my entry on the topic from April 7, 2008.

Then-Mayor Longrie wrote an April 8, 2008 opinion article in the Pioneer Press about her wish to see an audit; she ran the same text as her article in the May 2008 city newsletter. Longrie's laundry list of concerns focused not on Copeland's time at the city's helm — rather, she wanted an inquiry to focus on policy disagreements such as the amount of city debt, and bizarre personal obsessions like someone joking about naming a street after Will Rossbach. (Perhaps Longrie thinks "Comedy Police" is part of the state auditor's job description.)

In the new Pioneer Press article, Sletten claims to have obtained more than 400 signatures so far — roughly the same number as votes she received in last year's primary. To meet the required 20% of registered Maplewood voters, she'll need about 4,200. Even then, the scope of the audit is determined by the auditors, not the petitioners. To quote the State Auditor's website:

If a petition audit is certified by the county auditor, staff from the Office of the State Auditor would then meet with a committee of petitioners to review the petitioners' concerns. The audit staff then would review the concerns to determine the scope of the audit. The audit might not include all the concerns identified by the petitioners if the audit staff determined that the concerns were based on decisions within the discretion of the governing body.

I believe the State Auditor would duplicate the work already done by our independent auditors every year — which, let's be clear, has included a lot of clean-up of issues from the Longrie-Copeland era. But staff and auditors have repeatedly told us that there's no evidence of wrongdoing, just errors that we can reasonably believe came as a result of the loss of most of the accounting department, who were driven away by the toxic environment created in City Hall by Copeland and his masters. To emphasize the point once again, a state audit would not just duplicate our independent auditors' work, but the city's taxpayers would have to pay for the cost of the audit in a year when the budget is already stretched thin.

I don't believe that this money would be well spent, especially in these lean budgetary times. Still, if 20% of Maplewood voters want it, we'll indulge the personal obsessions of the former mayor and her cronies on the taxpayers' dime once again. I don't expect anything shocking will turn up, but I do still have my own list of questions, as I wrote in May 2008, that I will happily submit to the auditors if they're going to be examining the city's affairs anyhow.

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