The organizer of a drive for an outside city audit in Austin said today he will present a petition with more than 32,000 signatures to the city clerk 10 a.m. Thursday morning, thousands more than are needed to put the audit question on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Michael Searle, treasurer for Citizens for an Accountable Austin, said the group has verified more than the necessary 20,000 signatures due by July 20. By law, the city clerk has 30 days after receipt of the petition to validate the necessary signatures. The petition calls for the hiring of an outside auditor to evaluate all city departments.
The city council has the option of ordering the citywide audit directly. However, at the time Searle announced his signature drive, he was one short of the four council members needed to put the issue on their agenda. The council has until Aug. 20 to order the audit or approve a resolution calling for the ballot question.
Searle told The Texas Monitor his research indicated the audit would cost between $1 million and $2 million. Based on the results of audits done by other governmental bodies, Austin taxpayers could expect savings of between 4 and 10 percent of total city expenditures, or $156 million to $390 million a year, based on the current $3.9 billion budget.
In a statement of support, Keri Burchard-Juarez, a former assistant director for the city’s Department of Public Works, said, “It makes sense to identify redundancies and areas of overlapping responsibilities to potentially free up resources that could be used for other priorities.”
In Kansas, a similar audit identified $434 million a year in savings. Wyoming, Rhode Island and the city of Seattle found similar percentage savings with their audits. And the Detroit Public School System identified $53 million in annual savings.
“Residents of Austin have overwhelmingly signaled their support for this idea of conducting this independent efficiency audit,” Searle told The Texas Monitor Wednesday. “The benefit for our city and the folks who live here is clear.”
Searle, former chief of staff for Ellen Troxclair, the council’s lone conservative member, has stressed that the effort to improve government efficiency cuts across ideological lines.
Fred Lewis, longtime “New Deal liberal” activist and member of the city’s Charter Review Commission, told The Texas Monitor he signed on because, “Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you have a right to know if you are getting what you expect in the delivery of basic city services.”
Ed English, who ran unsuccessfully for city council largely to push for a citywide audit, and Bill Bunch, the maverick corporate fighter and executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, have also endorsed Searle’s drive.
“Transparency and efficiency in city spending is about as basic as it gets,” Bunch said. “The audit and spending review called for by the petition should be unanimously approved by the mayor and city council.”
“In a time of great political unrest, and with a country strongly divided on partisan lines, this is a bipartisan effort,” Searle said. “Many folks from both sides of the political spectrum have signaled support, but it is the 32,000 Austin voters who signed the petition that [are] most noteworthy.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected]