Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Why isn't the DC Auditor conducting regular ANC audits? And why doesn't anyone seem to give a damn?

I'm not saying that Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are inherently untrustworthy but the DC Auditor's rules are pretty clear -- the Auditor's Office is supposed to audit every single Advisory Neighborhood Commission every two years and that is not happening.

Maybe I should just cross my fingers and hope for the best?

I like to know how my tax payer dollars are being spent so I regularly check the DC Auditor's website. And once again I saw that there has not been a specific ANC audit posted online since September 2011. 

If there hasn't been an ANC audit report posted since September 2011 (and those reports covered fiscal years 2008 - March 2011) where in the world is the accountability? Where is the transparency?  Where are the checks and balances? Literally, "Where are the checks?!"

In the past 18 months we have seen three DC Council Members violate the public trust in exchange for self-enrichment. They were able to do it, in part, because they believed they would never get caught. They really didn't think anyone was paying attention, or paying enough close attention.

Its disconcerting to know that during the time that these public officials were playing the political corruption edition of "Deal or No Deal" there doesn't appear to be anyone doing audits of our Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. And if recent audits have been conducted it doesn't appear that the DC Auditor's office is posting those audits online where they could be doing some good.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? If an audit is conducted but never shared with the public did it ever happen?

This is not the first time I have written about the lack of timely ANC audit reports or sounded the alarm about concerns of how an ANC was spending (or wasting) quarterly allotments. 

It literally is an old story at this point.

Despite my concerns, questions, and outright pleas nothing ever seems to happen. And so in my own way I have given up any hope that anything even remotely looking like accountability and transparency will ever occur --at least in any significant and meaningful way. I have lost faith in this system,  the standard to which all systems should be judged. I no longer expect theft or mismanagement to be thwarted or discovered before the well runs dry.  I just hope there are at least a few dollars leftover when the gravy train finally comes to an end to have a decent funeral. I'm not kidding, I really do feel that way.




Again, I am not saying that all the ANCs must be bad and that ANC commissioners are stealing or mismanaging ANC funds on a large scale -- but if it is happening at all, it would be nice to have that information sooner rather than later. On the flip side, I like reading ANC audit reports because I like to see how successful and efficient Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are doing business. I like the idea of learning and sharing "best practices" so that my ANC can do better.  Hell, so I can learn how to do better!

But without that vital and crucial information my neighbors and I are left to speculate, and wonder, and hope (but not really) that everything is okay. And someone like me who has the nerve to ask questions, or speak up about the lack of transparency is rewarded with the "stink eye" (or worse, threats of physical harm upon my blessed person) every time I show up to ANC meetings. All this animosity just for asking questions I should be able to get freely, information that would be available in those audit reports. Public information that should be made readily available to all residents. I shouldn't have to make a written request (in triplicate) for an appointment to see the ANC minutes (assuming they exist). Then assuming that request is granted (which it probably will not), then provide my own paper in order to make a copy of the minutes on the very ANC copier that is paid for with my tax dollars.

In some unfortunate situations that is what concerned residents like myself are reduced to doing -- begging. Begging for the basic information we have a right to know by law, by right, and by our very own tax dollars.

As Kanye West would say, "That s--t cray."

I sat in an ANC meeting last month where the 2013 - 2014 commission alleged they were still trying to sift through the finances and locate financial documents of the 2011 - 2012 commission term. Several current commissioners didn't even know who the treasurer was in the last term for that commission -- 5 months after they had been elected to their new commission seats! (FYI --- that commissioner who was the former treasurer was sitting on the dais with them)

I was speechless and I wasn't the only one. 

Once I (and my neighbors) got over the shock of how much basic information was lacking I had a really horrible realization. Even if the new commission reached out to the DC Auditor's office it was unlikely the auditor's office would be able to help them. If the Auditor's website is accurate and all the audits that have been performed are posted online then an audit on that ANC hadn't been conducted in many years. That made me wonder, "Where do you go when the very agency that is tasked with being the watchdog for waste and fraud seems to need a seeing eye dog?"

Don't even get me started on the process of getting elected to be an ANC. I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and a very astute resident asked the DC Chairman why does she have to include her home address when she signs an ANC Nominating Petition but the person who is running for the ANC position can use a PO Box for their home address? I know that isn't a question for the DC Auditor but is still a very good question. If that isn't tomfoolery (and shenanigans) I don't know what is. How can someone represent me and my neighborhood when I am not entirely sure they even live in my neighborhood?!

I understand that DC has big issues, and bigger budgets than the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions but that doesn't mean that the ANCs aren't important. For people like me, your every day (albiet nosy) resident, it is those ANC dollars that have the potential to have the biggest positive impact on my neighborhood.  Most community advocates (and future DC Council Members) cut their teeth as an ANC Commissioner. If they don't learn during that term that they are to be held accountable when will they learn? Before someone decides to steal or mismanage $350,000 they probably started with small amounts, they started cutting corners where they didn't think anyone would notice, where they didn't think anyone would care. I think the ANCs should be given "great weight" and in more ways than one.

As I sit here, writing this post at 1am, I  find myself wondering, "when exactly did I lose faith in the system?"

Then I am comforted by the fact that I do have a record of the exact moment -- it's posted right here on this blog.

And it didn't even take me five years to do it. 

BTW I have absolutely "0" expectations that this post will change a damn thing which is why I am taking my tired, frustrated, and discouraged taxpayer behind to sleep. I have an ANC meeting to go to tonight and I have a feeling I will need my body armor. :(

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9 comments:

ShutEmDown said...

""Where do you go when the very agency that is tasked with being the watchdog for waste and fraud seems to need a seeing eye dog?" Truer words have never been spoken. I ended my service as a Commissioner in part because treasurers are allowed to treat the ANC's checkbook like it's their own without accountability. The auditor rarely checks for authorization for expenses in meeting minutes or disallow questionable expenditures. There was also no public input (or fellow Commissioners' for that matter) on annual budgets as required. I did not want my name associated with such mismanagement of public funds.

Bob Summersgill said...

The Auditor's Office is woefully understaffed and ANCs, while visible, represent a very small amount of the the D.C. budget, and hence a lower priority. The D.C. Council should provide adequate funding for the Auditor to do everything required. The Council could also hold performance oversight hearings on ANCs, as David Catania did many years ago. Marrion Barry did none when he chaired the committee with oversight. Kenyon McDuffie, now with oversight, does not hold hearings.

ANCs are responsible for how they handle public actions and public funds. They need to be as open and transparent as possible.

My ANC, 3F, in the Van Ness and Forest Hills area, takes this very seriously.

Meetings are now being live streamed and saved for later viewing on the internet. http://livestream.anc3f.us. It took a little experimentation, but we think we've gotten the hang of it. Chair Adam Tope, responsible for the live streaming, has shared detailed instructions for other ANCs on how to do it.

The website http://www.anc3f.us has meeting minutes, agendas, most resolutions (should be all), quarterly financial reports, voluntary agreements, and addresses and email addresses for all the Commissioners. The generic email, commissioners@anc3f.us is forwarded to all seven commissioners. The website could be better, and we are working on upgrading it.

Quarterly Financial Reports have all been on time since 2011. If an ANC does not have the time, inclination, or skills to handle administrative tasks, that is what the quarterly allocation is for. In 3F, we try to maximize neighborhood grants over administrative costs.

The 3F website includes a link to a Google Doc of the ANC's expenses and income. Anyone is welcome to look at any time. There is even an easy to remember short URL: bit.ly/ANC3Fchecks. Updates are made within 24-hours of a check being written. If anyone wants more information about our finances, just ask.

In the past couple of years we have reduced most of our regular expenses. Our fax line is gone. Our phone is now a Google phone and free. Our meeting space is now free. Our office continues to cost $10 per month, but that is a nominal fee. No commissioner receives a phone or phone service. We do provide business cards, but that seems like a reasonable way to share contact information with constituents.

We have a Yahoo group, Facebook page, and Twitter account to improve communications with constituents. Meetings are announced on 14 neighborhood listserves, in the Forest Hills Connection, and in the North West Current newspaper. The Current reports on all of our meetings. The Connection covers most of our activities.

Like all other ANCs, we have not been audited in many years. This is a problem, but individual ANCs can make a difference by being open and transparent. We have been entrusted with tax-payer money. It isn't ours. But we are responsible for handling it appropriately. There is no excuse for mismanaging ANC finances. We encourage all ANCs to take the steps that we have taken and welcome suggestions on how to be better.

-Bob Summersgill
Treasurer, ANC 3F







wen4hu said...

You are SO right!!!
But don't give in-don't wince from the stupidity of the hostile response you'll get, and don't feel small when no one from the audience backs you up. As a multiterm commissioner who has actually had to physically deposit the ANC books AT THE AUDITOR'S office to try to stop the thievery (even that didn't really work but it did slow it down) you have to follow the great Fredrick D's advice and just AGITATE AGITATE AGITATE Anacostiawen4hu

Anonymous said...

You should run for ANC in your community. That way you can get involved to help solve the issue. The ANC needs good people like yourself.

Carlene said...

Does a treasurer's report need to have a motion of approval?

No motion is needed - or proper. A treasurer's report is simply "received" as it is given and no motion should be made to "adopt", "accept" or "approve" it. An annual auditors' report, on the other hand, is "accepted" or adopted, but not the treasurer's financial report itself.

In searching for a resolution for an ANC8A problem (lack of treasurer's report) I can across this in Robert's Rules of Order (which is the standard by which ANC meetings should be conducted according to bylaws). Which I think supports why regular audits are necessary. I feel that even if the DC Auditor isn't meeting timelines, maybe the commission can use some funds to seek out an auditor of their own to help with an internal audit of some sort.

Chris Linn said...

I'm a commissioner in ANC 2F. We're still battling to get a quarterly allotment back that was withheld because one of the two signatures required on a check was on the memo line and not the signature line. So, the auditors office is performing some oversight. Although, one could argue they're focusing on idiotic things rather than in-depth audits that might uncover actual wrong doing. You have to jump through several hoops to get your funding. Similar to Bob below, we also just got rid of our phone line and switched to Google Voice saving about $80 a month. I can't speak for every commission, obviously, but there is some oversight and process to protect public funds.

The Advoc8te said...

I really appreciate these comments and I hope and pray more people will weigh in on this subject and then raise some hell so that something can be done immediately.

The focus of this post was just the lack of audits being performed -- which is bad enough.

The reality is that even if an audit was performed and in the very unfortunate situation that theft/mismanagement was discovered there really isn't a lot the Auditor can do other than withhold that amount from a future quarterly allotment.

Example.

Commissioner X spends $5,000 of ANC funds on a new car for personal use.

The DC Auditor will just withhold that $5,000 from the next quarterly allotment to the ANC and maybe (but not definetly) forward a recommendation to the office of attorney general. It will be up to the OAG to sue to recoup the original $5,000 and most often they do that without asking for interest and the person who stole the money can pay it back in installments.

So until the theft is resolved by either being paid back by the offender or the security fund insurance paying off the theft then the residents of that ANC are out $10,000 (the initial $5,000 that was misappropriated and the subsequent $5,000 that was withheld).

ODCA said...

The Office of the District of Colombia Auditor (ODCA) appreciates and is always open to input from ANCs and the community. ODCA has provided these comments to share with the public in regards to the post above. Please feel free to contact us at (202) 727-3600 or ANCOperations@dc.gov. Thank you. http://bit.ly/19RDFZB

ODCA said...

The Office of the District of Colombia Auditor (ODCA) appreciates and is always open to input from ANCs and the community. ODCA has provided these comments to share with the public in regards to the post above. Please feel free to contact us at (202) 727-3600 or ANCOperations@dc.gov with any questions. Thank you
http://bit.ly/19RDFZB