City DopeNews

ACC Auditor May Streamline Boards and Commissions, Permitting Process

ACC’s auditor is a kind of investigator for the elected commission—one of only a few county staffers who work directly for the commission, rather than through the county manager. More an efficiency expert than a financial analyst, the auditor’s past reports have made recommendations about operations of various departments within the government (and in at least one case, resulted in creating a new county department, the Community Protection Division). Also, after a negative report on the effectiveness of privately run probation services, commissioners moved that service back in-house.  

Then last summer, longtime auditor John Wolfe was fired after closed personnel hearings.  Commissioners were non-communicative about why, and denied speculation that Wolfe’s report on the Athens Downtown Development Authority was not to their liking. Instead, “it was internal personnel matters,” said Commissioner Doug Lowry, after an audit committee meeting last week.  “The office was less productive than it should have been,” added commissioner Kelly Girtz.  

The new auditor, a retired county department head who has come back on a one-year contract, is Steve Martin. (Next year, a national search will be conducted for a permanent auditor.) Martin is still hiring assistants to get the office back up to speed. Then he may report on the numerous boards and authorities that exist within county government—by one count, there are over 60.  They vary from tax and planning boards to citizens’ oversight groups, but “it’s a ridiculous number,” Lowry asserted.  Many were formed decades ago, county Manager Alan Reddish said, and now “the issues are different, and they’re still there.” Commissioners on the audit committee want to know which boards are necessary and how effectively they function. Would it help citizens on the planning commission to have more training, for example, asked Commissioner Kathy Hoard. She added, “I don’t know why there are 10 members on the planning commission, and they’re at-large.”

An audit of ACC’s huge Leisure Services department (“Not that we are sensing any problems,” Hoard said.) might wait until later and might begin with an evaluation of summer recreational programs. Also up for possible audit: the county’s much-maligned permits and inspections process. Complaints abound that it’s slow and complex, but when she has looked into complaints, Hoard said, she often found that the complaints were “not quite what happened.” But Reddish suggested that perhaps there should be a way for the public to track the progress of applications—like tracking a FedEx shipment on the web, he said. “You might want to know where it is in the process.”