Auditor budget cut? What are you afraid of mayor?

In 2008, the Kauai voters approved a charter amendment initiated by the council that created the Office of the County Auditor. The office was to be headed by a county auditor to serve for a six-year period and report to the council.

The auditor was empowered to conduct audit of county funds and accounts and performance of the programs and operations of county agencies.

The auditor was also given powers, comparable to those of the council in Charter Section 3.17, of access to county personnel and records and use of subpoenas.

Pursuant to this authorization Ernesto (Ernie) Pasion, who for many years had served in the County Clerk’s office, was appointed auditor and under his direction six audits of various county operations have been completed.

It is a basic reality that no one likes to have their affairs audited. And when the audit discovers that some things were done that did not meet appropriate standards, unhappiness is magnified.  

So when the county audits that were performed discovered that although much was done in accordance with good practice, there were deficiencies that should have been avoided and needed to be corrected, the audits were in some instances not graciously received and concerns arose about the process.

The quality of the audits made does not, however, seem open to question. In June, the Association of Local Government Auditors completed a peer review of the Kauai Auditor’s office and concluded that its systems were operating effectively and in compliance with government standards. The review also noted that the office excelled in making changes to comply with the standards.

But apparently the Kauai administration did not take kindly to the fact that some of its operations  and practices were being criticized by the six audits that were made.

 In the Kauai annual budgeting process the county offices and departments submit their proposed expenses and requirements for the forthcoming year to the mayor who consolidates them and then offers the result as the mayor’s budget to the council on each March 15.

As previously noted, the Auditor’s Office reports to the council, not the mayor. Nevertheless, the County Charter appears to authorize the mayor to make a revision in any departmental budget submitted to him.

Under this apparent authority the mayor without any indication of the justification for it and without notice to the Auditor’s Office reduced the auditor’s proposed budget for 2014 in the amount of $136,739 relating to salary and benefits for a staff auditor.

A further cut was made about $50,000 relating to a provision for retention of forensic services.

These reductions seriously impact the ability of the auditor’s office to perform its function.

When the citizens of the county have voted to establish an office that is charged with examining the performance of county operations, it seems to be poor policy to allow budgetary action by a party that will importantly adversely affect the capacity of the auditor to meet its statutory obligations when that party is the one to be examined.

It is a matter of concern that the administration took steps to assure that the investigation of its affairs could not be made as contemplated by the voters when the Office of Auditor was established.

It is a case where one must wonder why it may be that limitations were imposed on observations of performance of the administrative functions of our government.  

Was the auditing curtailing appropriate? What is there that may need to be  hidden?

The budget cut has had the intimidation effect that may have been intended. The capability of the Auditor Office has been impaired and it is hard to believe that this has not also had its effect on the morale of the office.

It should be of concern for all of us citizens of Kauai who want to be assured of the honesty, integrity and efficiency of our government that a valuable mechanism for achieving these goals be preserved and be able to perform with desired effectiveness.

I would suggest that those who share my views should contact the council members and urge restoration to the Auditor’s office of the necessary funds and tools that would allow it to adequately perform its function.

Walter Lewis is a resident of Princeville and writes a biweekly column for The Garden Island.

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