Council pushes private audit meeting public

The state’s long-awaited 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 four 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.

“Obviously we short-circuited their protocol,” Knobloch said. “I have a role to play as council chair, that is to make sure everyone knows what everyone else knows.”

When a minimum of four council members meet it is considered enough to conduct city business, and therefore has to be made a public under the state’s public meetings act.

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

The move has created some confusion among the city administration and 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,” 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 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.”

The city has been apprised of the auditor’s findings throughout the process. The only major finding by the state was a unapproved fund transfer of $530,000 from the general fund to the Storm and Surface Water Management fund. That transfer was later corrected by the city because it was not approved by the city council.

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 at Monday’s public meeting. If the meeting were to be private, as originally planned, the city and up to three council members could have asked questions regarding the auditor’s draft findings, that would have been included in the final report.

“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 attended the meeting 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. As of publishing, that request had not been fulfilled and was unlikely to occur.

“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 and we’ve got to make it an open meeting.”

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