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Council power play makes draft audit public

The state's long-awaited financial audit of the city has been thrust into the public forum after a behind-the-scenes power play by the city council.

Spearheaded by chairman Bill Knobloch, at least three more council members will attend a Monday morning presentation of the draft audit. The move will ensure there are enough decision makers at the presentation to create a quorum.

When a minimum of four council members meet it is considered enough to conduct city business, and therefore has to be made a public.

The move has created some confusion among the city administration and some council members since the audit was not meant to be made public until Dec. 17.

"I think there is some honest intent, but it doesn't allow the normal process to work," said council member Kjell Stoknes who will attend Monday's presentation. "The public is entitled to this, but that treats (the draft audit) more like a final report. In this case it's like putting the cart before the horse."

Usually, the draft audit is reviewed with the city administration and up to three council members. The city is then given a week to respond to the audit. That response is included as part of the state's final published report.

"Normally we have a chance to review for errors or omissions," said City Administrator Mark Dombroski. "We had proposed a Dec. 17, council meeting to formally review the audit. It was requested (that Monday's draft review) not be a public meeting by the auditors themselves."

Dombroski has scheduled a last-minute Friday meeting with representatives of the auditor's office to discuss the draft findings.

Due to the auditor's own draft presentation guidelines, there will be no chance for questions or comments on the findings. If the meeting were to be private, as originally planned, the city and up to three council members could have asked questions about the auditor's findings.

"In retrospect it would have been good for councilors to meet on the preliminary draft to ask questions," Stoknes said. "I think we got it backwards."

However, Knobloch said it was important to make sure the public were involved in report due to the nature of the current financial climate. He also said he would push for a second, private meeting in which questions could be asked regarding the audit's findings.

"It is a combination of public perception that we want an open and transparent government, and we are in the perfect financial storm at the city," Knobloch said. "This is an audit on the functionality of the city, we got to make it an open meeting."

The meeting for review of the draft audit will take place at 11 a.m. on Dec. 8 at city hall.

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