Community Columns

Wendy Byrd: Understanding city civics is important – so be at Tuesday’s town hall

By Wendy Byrd

Why should taxpayers be involved in selecting the next city auditor?

The short answer is because it’s your money and you have a right to know what’s going on.

The Town Hall on Tuesday, May 21, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the King Kennedy Memorial Center, 601 S. Martin Luther King Drive, is sponsored by the NAACP and the West Modesto Community Collaborative.

It is a grassroots effort to facilitate a crash course in good governance. At last week’s Modesto City Council meeting, council members went against spending money for a Splash Pad for kids at Mellis Park, yet approved a plan to spend $35,000 to hire a recruiting firm to look for what I believe we already had, a good city auditor.

Tuesday’s informational town hall is aimed at providing civic education so that community members can become more involved in ensuring that we have an effective Auditor’s Office, committed to representing the public’s interest.

You’ll learn about the role of the mayor, city manager, deputy city manager, city attorney, council members and city clerk. We will have seasoned city auditors from outside the area who will provide independent, objective and reliable information about the role of an independent city auditor. We’ll discuss laws, regulations and best practices in accordance with national Government Auditing Standards.

Experts will discuss the pros and cons of appointed, independent and elected auditor models. Participants will learn how other communities are collaboratively working with their auditor in managing risks, conflicts of interest, cost savings and improves services.

Retired Berkeley City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan, an elected auditor for 24 years and a member of the Association Of Local Government Auditors, will talk about the role of audit committees and strategies to prevent management interference or suppression of audit findings.

Jorge Oseguera, Council-appointed City Auditor for Sacramento, will talk about their success in saving money, increasing revenue and improving city services.

Local attorney George Petrulakis, former Chair of the Modesto Charter Review Committee, will talk about our City Charter, its history, intent and structure as it relates to the auditor position.

Most important, the town hall will provide residents an opportunity to ask questions and provide input into what you want to see in the next City Auditor, as well as our elected officials.

Leadership is everybody’s responsibility. The more informed we are, the better decisions we make.

The process of independent auditing must be protected so that the auditor is free to do his or her job without personal penalty or retribution.

Whistleblower programs must be structured such that whistleblowers trust that they can provide information without retaliation.

Restoring community trust is part of the package in bringing on a new auditor. The town hall is open to the public.

Wendy Byrd is president of the Modesto/Stanislaus NAACP