LARGO - City Manager Steve Stanton, long tabbed as the best and most skillful politician in Largo, emerged triumphant from the City Commission's work session Tuesday night when the idea of an independent internal auditor died a-borning.
The auditor idea, given support by commissioners in private conversations in the past several weeks, went down as all members but one on the commission folded like cheap suitcases.
One member, who had an e-mail exchange with a citizen vowing support for the independent internal auditor to the point of zealotry, turned and ran when mustering up time came Tuesday.
Observers wondered what methods Stanton used to get to that member and vacate all that enthusiasm for an auditor.
The only commissioner who supported strongly the idea was Mary Black. Gay Gentry appeared to be tending in favor.
But Mayor Pat Gerard and Commissioner Harriet Crozier were solidly against, Commissioner Rodney Woods was befuddled as usual, appearing not to understand what was going on, and Commissioner Gigi Arntzen looked to be all at sea. Once again, Commissioner Andy Guyette occupied an empty seat.
Gerard made a statement that was ludicrous, suggesting in its implication that she has not been mentally present at recent commission meetings.
"I can't recall when the staff ever withheld any information," she said, forgetting or overlooking, evidently, the recent golf course eatery debacle when full disclosure of the buddy-buddy deal was not made to the commission. That's only one example of many.
The city's part time lawyer, who is paid $2,000-plus a week, gave the commission a letter opinion saying it could not hire such an independent auditor because all employees worked for the city manager.
But Section 9.02 of the city charter clearly says the commission can certainly hire such a position, which, of course, would be in the status of a consultant.
Crozier, whose husband went to work for the city after she was elected in a clear case of nepotism, railed against the independent internal auditor idea, saying that the idea was all the idea of one citizen, Curtis Holmes, as though this had a blameworthy rather than praiseworthy quality.
Stanton, steadfast, tough and clever as always, said that hiring an independent internal auditor would be contrary to the charter, which is not true; said there was no problem that needed fixing, although there is a long list of incidents that militate otherwise, and observed that the city needs a new city manager if the commission is not satisfied with his performance.
Once again, the Largo City Commission showed itself for the most part to be so many bean bags at the disposal of the city manager and suggests the reason why there is so much apathy in the city.
It was eminently clear from the outset - and that goes back to August when the idea first came up - that the city manager opposed it.
And for good reason, undoubtedly. It meant that someone would be looking over his shoulder to ensure that policies of the elected officials were being carried out.
For reasons more attributable to human nature than anything else, the city has drifted more and more away from the authority of the elected mayor and commission to the autonomous and all-powerful city manager.
There is no curb, no supervision, no oversight on his activities. A long list of actions undertaken by him unilaterally spurred the idea of a position in the city that would tend to restore power to the elected officials.
Because of the opposition from the city manager, the 42-page memo accompanying the agenda item on the independent internal auditor completely masks what is truly being sought by its advocates.
Actually, the information in the 42-page memo states the case against hiring an independent internal auditor who would be under the sole jurisdiction of and would report only to the commission. It is a watch dog job, for the benefit of the elected officials, and thus responsible to the citizens and taxpayers.
Any current control over the city manager is elusive at best. Stanton is so schooled in the skills of bureaucracy that commission inquiries, etc., on the rare occasions they do occur are tantamount to shouting down a well.
Ironically, the presentation Tuesday night on the subject, made by Kim Adams, was done by the city staff which is opposed to the idea because undoubtedly they have been instructed accordingly by the city manager and secondly because the implementation of an auditor would put a damper on the current freewheeling activities of the administration.
That those activities have been sloppy is seen in recent serious errors in bringing matters to the commission, presenting a non-corporation and then fudging on the truth in regard to the golf course eatery is a prime example.
An independent internal auditor would not merely be one who checks the arithmetic of the city's financial operations but would fully understand the function of government, is up to date and conversant with procedures, responsibilities and duties of city officials relative to the charter and Florida Statutes, will maintain and ongoing examination of the city's accounting system, advise the mayor and commission whether all systems provide for full disclosure, ensure vendor compliance, avoid palsy-walsy deals in securing vendors (which has made the city notorious for its cronyism), ensure that commission policies and directions are carried out, review all expenditures of less than $25,000, and conduct on a continuous basis an internal audit of all fiscal operations, manpower needs, physical assets and submit reports to the elected officials on a regular basis.
The memo lists 11 functions that are not the vital functions of an IIA at all. The idea is being presented that this auditor would be just another bean counter, and who needs that?
Actually, the independent internal auditor would perform tasks and have responsibilities not even mentioned in the lengthy memo which is pretty much a repeat of the misleading document the commission saw last summer.
In the view of advocates of the IIA, the administration - from the city manager down - and all employees must know and understand that the internal auditor has complete and total authority to examine all records and talk confidentially to all employees.
These are elements that Stanton has successfully blocked in recent years, giving him dictator like control over city business.
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