The administration of Mayor Doug Wilder has joined Richmond Public Schools among city government entities resisting attempts to open their accounting books to the light of day.
In an ongoing audit of the city's procurement services, Wilder officials are obstructing attempts to obtain information, says City Auditor Umesh Dalal. But administration officials counter with claims that some audit requests have been politically motivated.
Dalal says that access to information needed for his audit has been curtailed by the city's Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black and by Mayor Doug Wilder's senior policy adviser, Kim Neal.
For Dalal, it's a flashback to his first attempt to audit the city's school system.
"This is very parallel to what schools did," Dalal says. "As a result in the schools audit, the data got delayed beyond reason. Following this type of protocol will hamper the validity of the information, and that is certainly not good for the city."
Dalal's complaints of resistance from school officials became political fodder for Wilder, who used the school system's lack of cooperation in the audit as justification for nixing schools from his City of the Future funding plans. Wilder also authorized the hiring of an outside auditing firm at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct a more thorough audit, and cited the lack of cooperation with city auditors in his decision to tightly regulate school spending at one point refusing to honor routine school funding requests.
The city charter allows the auditor's office unrestricted access to all books and records of city departments, Dalal says: "However, more recently, administration has asked us to go through the mayor's policy adviser for everything we need."
In addition to having to first obtain clearance from Neal, Dalal says he's allowed to receive information only directly through city department heads.
"I cannot go to the employee directly," Dalal says, calling the process time-consuming and also potentially damaging to the integrity of his work.
"If I tell you I'm coming to look at your x-y-z, it's different if I say I'm coming now than if I say I'm coming next week," he says. "Doesn't that delay give you time to do something with the evidence? That's the issue."
But Black says credibility may be more an issue for the auditor's office than for the departments it investigates. He says that the protocol requirements Dalal has been asked to operate under are normal and do not constrain his ability to conduct the audit.
Rather, Black claims the chafing between Dalal's office and his own is largely caused by "one or two employees" in the auditor's office whom Black says are "holdovers from the old regime" acting in a politically motivated fashion.
"They're out of control," Black says of these alleged rogue auditors. "They're putting [Dalal's] office in jeopardy from a credibility standpoint."
The city's procurement department falls under the supervision of Black in his role as the city's chief financial officer. Asked by Style whether Black's involvement with the audit had the appearance of impropriety, Dalal says that perception cannot be ignored: "You make the judgment," he says. S