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City Auditor Laments Lack of Resources, Qualified Staff

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While the brain drain of city bureaucrats jumping ship for safer county or state jobs continues, the city auditor's office says it's suffering too -- from a case of too many pocket protectors and not enough pockets.

"We are really hurting," says City Auditor Umesh Dalal, whose office has of late battled uncooperative city administrative staff in a vain attempt to complete an audit of city procurement, accounts payable and grants offices. "We will not be able to finish our work as fast as we could otherwise."

Two sets of circumstances are contributing to his difficulty in hiring to fill vacant positions, Dalal says.

The first is a change in the city's benefits package; new employees receive a 401(K) plan rather than a state retirement package, and the city's overall benefit plan "has diminished further recently," Dalal says, with a change in health care providers.

The second is the administrative climate at the city. Firings and top-down political pressures have forced many longtime midlevel city officials to seek jobs elsewhere.

A similar drain occurred at the state during the early 1990s under the administration of then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, recalls one former state employee who asked not to be identified. That employee left for a city job during that period, only to find himself again in a Wilder-induced pressure cooker. He says the climate at the city recently prompted him to depart for a private-sector technology job.

"The competent people we had left the city and went back to the state," Dalal agrees. "The biggest problem right now is the shortage of qualified staff."

Among critical staff positions recently vacated is a technology auditor post — a position tasked with accessing, mining and processing electronic data from city records. Also missing is a technology audit assistant and a general auditor.

Hiring difficulties add fuel to the fire for critics of Dalal's efforts, as well as for critics of the city's school system, which has since improved its cooperation with Dalal in his efforts to audit its functions. Mayor Wilder recently lashed Dalal in a letter for undertaking his city audits before fulfilling his obligation to complete the ongoing schools audit.

Another letter, sent earlier this month by a group of city business leaders critical of the "emergency" state of schools finances, did not wait for Dalal's suggested fixes, prompting one School Board member, Carol A.O. Wolf, to send a letter of response. She suggests that business leaders lend corporate auditors to the city's audit department.

Dalal maintains both his right to access city information and the importance of completing an audit of certain city functions concurrent with the schools audit. He's auditing procurement functions for both schools and the city, for example, in an effort to determine potential areas where the two separate departments could be consolidated to save time and money.

"Ironically, I am trying to accomplish what administration's objectives are — they have gone on record and said these are what their objectives are," Dalal says. "We are trying to contribute in [Wilder's] cause."

Meanwhile, the Wilder-appointed acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black continues creating interference to the audit on two fronts.

Black is requiring Dalal to seek permission through him before requesting city information for his audit. Black also has since backed away from the administration's earlier calls for consolidation, indicating, during comments to the city's audit committee last month, that consolidation might not be feasible in some unspecified instances. S



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