Earlier today several local reporters and editors, including myself, sent a letter to the City Auditor requesting that his office investigate the widespread use of private email accounts by city officials. This evening, the City Auditor responded.
Here is the full text of his response:
Kevin et al: thanks for your email about City officials’ use of private email for government purposes. City officials and employees should follow the State of Washington’s Public Records Act requirements. However, there are significant audit independence issues if we were to do work that focused on the City Council. Given that we are housed in the same branch of government as the Council, it would compromise the independence of the audit if our office were to audit the Council. Because of this, it’s been our long-standing policy and practice to not audit the Council because of the real or perceived conflict of interest.
To be precise, section 3.14g of the Government Auditing Standards (GAS), which we adhere to, would characterize our placement in City government as raising a structural independence issue. In other words, because we are housed in the same branch of government as the Seattle City Council (i.e., legislative), and perform our work under the direction of the Council, per Seattle Municipal Code 3.40.020, there would be inherent limitations on our ability to perform an independent audit of the Council.
A more appropriate entity to perform the comprehensive project you outlined would be the Washington State Auditor’s Office because, unlike our office, it is completely independent of Seattle City government.
Let me know if you have any questions about the above.
While I understand the issue he raises, it’s certainly disappointing that our city government is structured so that the City Auditor is unable to investigate anything inside an entire branch of the government, and has no provision for engaging an outside independent auditor to do so.
I’m guessing we will probably take this up with the State Auditor. Stay tuned.