Along with the Revenues & Expenditures Committee of the Arlington County Civic Federation, the Arlington County Taxpayers Association (ACTA) has had a long history of supporting the need for a strong, watchdog, internal audit function for the billion dollar plus county government.
On August 4, 2014, we growled, "Arlington County taxpayers may finally be able to see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel as the county press office confirmed on Friday the county government has hired the first auditor for what is hoped to be an independent and fully-staffed internal audit function." Later in the Growls, we wrote:
"ACTA has growled repeatedly about the need for Arlington County government and its government schools, i.e., Arlington Public Schools, to have an independent and fully-staffed internal audit function. This includes our May 7, 2013 and October 2, 2013 Growls, and more recently the April 5, 2014 and May 10, 2014 Growls. (embedded links available in the original)
"Kudos to Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt and the Arlington County Civic Federation's Revenues & Expenditures Committee for their continuing support of a strong internal audit function. And kudos to the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey for the clarity in his reporting on this subject."
Then, on January 15, 2015, we growled, we asked if Arlington County was closer to having an internal auditor. In addition, we observed, "It is difficult to understand just how the Arlington County government, with more than a billion dollar annual budget and Triple-A bond ratings, manages to pass its annual financial audits without a vibrant and dynamic internal audit function."
Several months later, on July 14, 2015, we growled that the Arlington County Board was "moving forward . . . slowly" in selecting a County Auditor. A week later, we growled, saying "Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun Gazette reports this morning on the squabbling that occurred at the Arlington County Board's recessed meeting yesterday." But, we were pleased to report when we growled on December 16, 2015:
"After several years, the Arlington County Board finally voted last night to hire a County Auditor, according to a report today by the Arlington Sun Gazette."
Consequently, we were sorry to learn this week that Arlington County's new auditor is leaving the job," as reported Wednesday afternoon by ARLnow.com. According to the online local news site:
"Arlington is searching for a new auditor, the county announced this afternoon.
Jessica Tucker, the county’s first independent auditor to report directly to the County Board, is resigning as of July 8 and taking a new job in California.
"Tucker’s tenure at the county started on Jan. 25, and seemed to be going well. She announced that she was seeking audit suggestions from residents last month."
The county's press release announcing Ms. Tucker's resignation is here.
Your humble scribe first learned about the County Auditor's resignation last night in reading Mark Kelly's weekly The Right Note column. Admittedly, discerning a victory for the county bureaucracy requires a bit of reading between the lines, but here's what Kelly wrote about the County Auditor's resignation:
"Unfortunately, the efforts of Garvey and Vihstadt on the new audit function of the county took a blow this week when County Auditor Jessica Tucker announced her resignation. Tucker came to Arlington from Fairfax County and she brought a background as a government auditor from the local to the federal level.
"As the County Board re-opens the search, they should also use the opportunity to re-examine the charge for the position.
"First, the Board should consider candidates with a private sector background. If we truly want to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of our government operations, maybe we should consider someone with experience outside of other government bodies. It doesn’t mean we have to run government exclusively like a business, but running it more like a business could be helpful.
"Second, the Board should provide the budget for at least one or two additional dedicated staff members who report directly to the Auditor, not the County Manager. If we are going to have an independent audit function, the office needs to be able to have the capacity to operate independently.
"Third, the Board should consider removing the County Manager and Director of the Department of Management and Finance from the Audit Committee. If this function is to be truly independent and report only to the Board, then why does the county staff have a direct say in what will be audited?
"Starting over with a new person is an unfortunate step backward. Hopefully the Board will use the opportunity to move toward more independence while working diligently to fill the position as quickly as possible."
With one exception, I fully concur with Mark Kelly's advice for the county. Kelly says "the Board should provide the budget for at least one or two additional dedicated staff members who report directly to the Auditor, not the County Manager." Without doing a complete risk analysis, I don't know the appropriate staffing level for the County Auditor. However, a "back of the napkin" analysis using comparably sized government entities across the Commonwealth suggests "one or two" is too few although it would be a good start. In addition, I would urge the Board to seek to consolidate the County's and School's audit functions.
Several residents of McHenry County, Illinois were so irate at rising property tax bills that they "paid thousands of dollars of real estate taxes with $1 bills at the county treasurer's office and vowed to do so again in September and every due date afterward until the taxes stop increasing," according to the June 15, 2016 Chicago Tribune. Perhaps it's time for Arlington County taxpayers to make a similar statement about the need for Arlington County government to have a properly staffed County Auditor function.
Growls readers are urged to write to members of the Arlington County Board to voice their concerns about the County Auditor's resignation, proper staffing of the office, and assurance there is no bureaucratic meddling in its proper functioning. Just click-on the link below:
- Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130
And tell them ACTA sent you.