What are Voters Entitled to Know and When?

I believe this election is very important to Beaumont’s future. The city has recently been on the losing end of a $43 million judgment. The latest audit showed a $4 million deficit in the city’s funds. The citizens are facing water restrictions that are exacerbated by the city's failure to produce any recycled water. The city's answer to providing recycled water is raising our sewer fees for five consecutive years in order to fund a $60 million desalination plant. The financial status and strategy of the administration and current council for the future should be a concern of every voter.

The city recently approved and released the audit for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. As with the last two audits released by the city, the council approved an accompanying report on the internal controls but authorized the City Manager to withhold the report from the public.

Last year, while I was pushing for an independent audit of the city’s internal controls, we were told by the City’s auditors and the council that there wasn’t anything serious enough to consider a costly Internal Controls Audit. When the council finally released the last two internal control reports (fiscal years 10/11 and 11/12) we learned there were a number of concerns reported by the auditors that had persisted through both years. We learned that the city had replied to the auditors with their plans to address the deficiencies in their internal controls. In the 11/12 report, the auditors indicated that the city’s plans from the 10/11 report for correcting the controls failed more times than they succeeded.

After the reports and the failure of the staff to effectively address the auditors concerns were made public, the council again refused to request an internal controls audit. Council member Berg, the mayor at that time, told us that no matter how many citizens signed a petition for an internal controls audit, he would not approve the audit.

Again this year, the internal controls report is being withheld from the public but this year there is a new twist. Now the council believes there may be a reason for “independent consultants to perform a review of the City’s internal financial controls.” The city is looking for a targeted review of cash collections and cash disbursement procedures. Not only have they authorized an RFP (Request for Proposal), they have authorized the creation of “an internal control committee. Committee members will be responsible for reviewing Request for Proposals.”

Creating a committee with citizen representation to review RFPs is very unusual, especially for Beaumont. What has changed? Why are they considering something they have fought so hard against in the past? Why do they believe the committee is warranted? We don’t know. No one is talking and the Internal Controls Report, paid for by taxpayers to provide oversight of our government, has still not been made public.

The committee applications will be accepted up through September 9 when the RFPs will be available for review, only a few weeks before the absentee ballots go out in the mail. It is likely the work of the committee will not even get under way before the first ballots are counted.

With the City of Beaumont at such an important crossroads in our financial history, I think it is crucial that the citizens have access to all the reports we’ve paid for. More importantly, three of the five council members are up for reelection. I think we need to hear from them why they refused the audits in the past but now have had a change of heart. They should tell us why the latest internal control reports has still not been made public. We are entitled to know what they know. We need to know before the election.