State audits deserve to be taken seriously

Just because there aren't any findings for financial recovery does not mean that the problems identified by the Ohio Auditor's Office with the way the city of Youngstown manages its money are unimportant. Noncompliance citations issued by the state auditor are, at the very least, an indication that the finance director and his staff aren't paying close enough attention to what is occurring in City Hall.
Superimpose the audit for 2005, which was conducted in 2006 -- the results were made public this month -- and the one for 2004, conducted in 2005, and it's clear that some of the same shortcomings continue to plague government.
Even Finance Director David Bozanich's reaction has a familiar ring.
After the release of the 2004 audit, Bozanich, who has headed the finance department for many years, said, "Generally, it's a pretty clean audit. There are areas we need some improvements. We understand that and we're working on it."
This year, his reaction to the 2005 review was that he is "generally satisfied with the audit."
"We realize we need to implement some improvements, and we've already done some."
State audits aren't irrelevant, nor are they make-work endeavors designed to keep individuals on the public payroll.
Audits are, in fact, reports cards. A clean audit says that the public entity is doing a good job of managing taxpayer dollars. Findings for financial recovery or noncompliance citations are indications of systemic problems or inattention to detail. Whatever the case may be, public officials have a responsibility to do better.
Public concern
But when auditors uncover almost the same problems from one year to the next, then the public has a right to wonder if the reviews of the financial statements are being taken seriously.
In the 2005 audit, there were seven noncompliance citations and 16 recommendations to improve Youngstown's financial operations. In the 2004 audit, there were five citations and 17 recommendations.
It may be an exaggeration to say that things are getting worse in City Hall, but when the details of the audits are studied, it does seem that some basic actions have not been taken.
For example, auditors found that Youngstown government does not have citywide cell phone and credit card policies.
Given what has occurred in this region with regard to the misuse of public property, it is inconceivable that any local government would not have strict rules and regulations for the use of cell phones and government issued credit cards. Self-policing does not work in the public sector, as we've seen time and again.
Another glaring shortcoming identified in the state audit has to do with overtime -- which certainly needs to be closely monitored.
Overtime balances by police and fire department employees aren't maintained in the finance department. Auditors found no evidence of supervisory review of police overtime and no documentation to indicate a periodic review of the time exists. This issue was also raised in the 2004 audit.
If there's one issue that has long been a bone of public contention in Youngstown, it's the runaway overtime obligations.
It's not just a matter of better record keeping. Mayor Jay Williams and his department heads must crackdown on overtime. Taxpayers are no longer willing to fill the bottomless pit that is government.

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