Candidates propose city management audit; others say its not needed

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If Carson City government is running as efficiently as possible, then an independent audit to verify it shouldn't bother anyone, say some Carson City political candidates.

A mayoral and Ward 4 supervisor candidate agree the city should allow an outside agency to pick apart city operations to make sure money isn't wasted and people are doing the jobs they're supposed to do.

Mayoral candidate Neil Weaver said money will be the biggest issue of the city's future in the next four years.

"There's not going to be enough of it," he said.

If he were looking to buy Carson City as a business, Weaver said, the first thing he would do before spending millions of dollars would be to do a management effectivity study.

"How else are you going to see that everything is running efficiently?" Weaver said. "Government has an omnipotent syndrome. 'We're in charge, we'll let you know when we want to talk to you.' It's like they're above self-examination.

"How do I know they're doing a good job? The tax dump truck just keeps backing up and dumping money in.

"I believe when we get a management effectivity study, we will find we will have more money to spend in this government than we ever thought. I think there is a lot of money wasted."

Carson City internal auditor Gary Kulikowski answers only to the Board of Supervisors and, for the most part, does the job Weaver and Richard Staub, candidate for Ward 4 supervisor, say is necessary. He monitors where certain departments spend money and works with departments to help cut costs.

"We do a good job in looking for opportunities to streamline how we do business," Kulikowski said. "We identify areas, but it takes time to see the changes take place. It's more of an evolutionary change than a revolutionary change."

Staub said he understands the city has an internal auditor who monitors the city's finances. However, at least once every decade it would be good to hire an outside agency to review management.

"It would give us a report card as to how we operate as a city," Staub said. "Potentially, it would make recommendations that could help us do things more efficiently.

"People need to know that what they pay in taxes is being spent wisely. Sometimes in city government there is a sense of complacency. Complacency breeds contempt. It doesn't hurt from a business standpoint to look at the way we do things."

Staub said not only is a financial review important, but also a review of management and city operations.

"It seems that Carson City government operates almost ad hoc as to how agency heads are hired or given their responsibilities," he said. "One minute we have a deputy city manager, the next we don't. Are job descriptions written to fit the person who fits a job? Things seem to be amended on an ad hoc basis to facilitate changes with the organizations."

Staub said the city manager and Board of Supervisors should endorse such an audit.

"If they're doing their job, there shouldn't be a problem," he said.

Incumbent mayoral candidate Ray Masayko said the concept is something he's supported, but "perhaps not top to bottom with a big firm to do it in one fell swoop."

Masayko said while there is always room for improvement, he thinks it is more important for the city to have an internal process that allows employees to examine their own departments and positions and make recommendations for improvement.

"I advocated continuous reviews, two or three departments a year," Masayko said. "There is always room for improvement. If you have issues and concerns, why don't you isolate them and deal with them as they come up? If you don't do reviews of what you do, the budget will force you to do it."

City Manager John Berkich responded to Staub's criticism by describing the management style at City Hall as "dynamic." Berkich said as Carson City and its government organization change, it's his job to make sure city operations are flexible.

"That's been my whole focus since I've been here," Berkich said. "At every staff meeting we ask everybody what they've done to improve their department that week. Our philosophy is that we are always improving.

"We believe we have a perpetual fundamental review," he said. "We're always looking at how we do business versus how other people do business. The Board of Supervisors over the years has empowered staff to - I hate to use a tired phrase, but - be all it can be. You empower (employees) and equip them, then you have a successful and powerful organization."

The city pays about $60,000 a year for local accounting firm Kafoury Armstrong to audit the city's financial statements. As for a citywide management audit, Berkich said he would welcome it, although he questions the cost of hiring a company.

"One thing we have to keep in mind is when you hire a company to do a management audit, they're extremely expensive," he said. "In an organization as committed to continuous change as we are, would the cost benefit be there?"

Kulikowski agreed with Berkich that the cost of a separate audit company may not be worth the expense. Also, occasional grand juries look at specific city operations, and city records are open to public review.

"We need to target specific areas," Kulikowski said. "Even if we were to bring someone in to do a comprehensive review of all city functions, once the areas of improvements are identified, it would do no good unless we took action to make those changes. Those things take time."

Most other supervisor and mayor candidates said hiring a company would be a waste of scant city dollars.

Some say a concept called "zero-based budgeting" is the way to check efficiency.

"The most terrible words in government are, 'We've always done it this way,'" said mayoral candidate Tom Keeton. "Zero-based budgeting says: Take a department and literally zero their account. The managers come in and justify their budget for every person, every desk. It's not a witch hunt. It's a tool to make them focus on how they spend their money.

"An auditor just comes in and looks at the money. If you really need an audit because you're concerned about somebody misusing money, we have an internal auditor that is capable of doing his job. He knows the departments. He knows the people and can audit them without it being some kind of antagonist."

Supervisor candidate Verne Horton suggested about every five years departments should undergo an internal, zero-based budgeting project "to make sure they're going in the direction the public wants, doing that which is necessary to get the job done.

"If you know an inspection is coming, you can look good," Horton said of a citywide audit. "To evaluate the (city) on an ongoing basis could be just as effective. (City operations) are a matter of public record, which the public an easily see."

Frank Sharp, also a supervisor candidate, said he didn't see any inefficiencies within city government that "send flags up."

"If I thought there was one out there, I would be jumping all over it," Sharp said. "You know how I feel about tax dollars. You would have to have a reason to bring someone from the outside to audit something. We can find out where the fat is. Do we need the expense (of an outside auditor)? No."


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