The cities of Bremerton and Seattle are the only ones in the state with an internal, independent auditor.
But Bremerton’s city council is on its way to putting a charter amendment on next fall’s ballot that could eliminate the position altogether. Under that scenario, the city would rely instead on outside auditors on an as-needed basis.
In Bremerton, the auditor is appointed by a committee that includes two council members, two residents and a certified public accountant whereas in Seattle the auditor is appointed by the full council. Gary Nystul has held the auditor’s job in Bremerton since 2003.
Bremerton city council member Jim McDonald, who sat last year on the city’s audit committee, a group that meets outside of public view while producing several reports every year, was the first one to float the idea of doing away with the city auditor.
“The current charter requirement is singularly unique and does not provide the council with effective control of the city auditor; the city auditor function is expensive; and there are other effective systems in place to measure and improve our city’s performance,” McDonald wrote in his original draft charter amendment.
During a recent study session, McDonald emphasized that under his proposal the city would not eliminate audits altogether, but would instead shop out performance and proficiency audits, allowing the city council to have more control over the process from beginning to end. The main point, he said, is having accountability to the city council. He also noted that the city will have spent $650,000 for the auditor’s office during his four year term.
“I just don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth,” he said. “I think if the council has some responsibility to it, we will.”
But at least one council member, Carol Arends, whose husband worked professionally as an auditor, is providing some pushback on eliminating the auditor position.
“Some of the things that are released and you would think would really cause a public outcry, especially when the paper prints something about it, kind of falls with a dull thud,” she said. “It’s like people aren’t interested. It’s not dramatic enough, I guess. As far as I’m concerned, the job is underpaid. I know he (Nystul) puts in a lot of hours and overtime that aren’t paid for. I think we’ve been fortunate to have him and now maybe we won’t.”
In the midst of the ongoing discussion to do away with the auditor, Mayor Patty Lent is reviewing the most recent, as-yet-to-be released audit report put together by Nystul and the audit committee. Nystul said that audit is essentially an audit of the city’s audits dating back to 2008. It reviews all of the findings and recommendations made in the reports and whether or not they were ever addressed by the council or administration. The report was undertaken before McDonald and the council floated the possibility of eliminating or restructuring the auditor position.
City Council President Greg Wheeler said that nobody is questioning Nystul’s work or abilities, but instead are interested in restructuring the process itself.
“I don’t know if we set up the right expectations for the audit committee,” he said.