Petitions for Austin citywide audit are certified

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Austin audit

City Clerk Jannette Goodall on Friday certified a petition asking the Austin City Council to put on the Nov. 6 ballot a call for an outside audit of all city departments.

Citizens for an Accountable Austin, the political action committee that originally submitted 30,895 signatures to Goodall’s office on July 12, intends to ask the council to consider approving the ballot initiative at its regular meeting Thursday.

The council also has the option to consider authorizing an independent citywide audit on its own.

“We are excited about the news and ready to take the needed next steps to ensure that the benefits of this proposal will be realized by Austin as soon as possible,” Michael Searle, who developed the audit idea, said Friday.  “Although the city council does not typically adopt petition ordinances brought forward by the public, we hope the broad support and benefits of this idea will help to change that trend.”

Polling paid for by the group has shown that an estimated 82 percent of Austin residents support this kind of auditing.

Searle on Friday touted the audit as a way “to give the city and the city council a tool to identify cost-saving measures that can be used to reduce demand on taxpayers, or ensure the most effective allocation of taxpayer resources as the demand for city services continues to increase.”

Studies of audits done by other state and local governments suggest that Austin could save between 4 and 10 percent on its annual city expenditures, or between $156 million and $390 million a year, based on the city’s 2018 budget of $3.9 billion.

Searle, treasurer for the group and former chief of staff for city council member Ellen Troxclair, has told The Texas Monitor such an audit would cost between $1 million and $2 million.

Using a random sampling method, Goodall determined Searle’s group had provided far more than the 20,000 signatures legally required to request approval for a ballot initiative.

Her certification comes nearly three weeks ahead of an Aug. 20 deadline for the council to approve a ballot resolution in time for the Nov. 6 election.

Searle promoted his petition drive as a good-government initiative and rounded up support from professional municipal staff and citizens from across the political spectrum.

“An independent audit of city finances embraces the public expectation that accountability and transparency are the foundation for efficient and effective government,” said Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP chapter. “The Austin City Council should adopt the petition without requiring an election.”

“The public clearly wants an independent audit of the city’s finances, and the council should adopt the certified audit petition without requiring an election,” Fred Lewis, a local attorney and activist, said Friday.

Ed English, who pressed for a citywide audit in an unsuccessful bid for city council in 2014, has been advising Searle. Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance and a longtime progressive city activist, is also on board with the petition drive.

“The audit comes at an opportune time, with a new 10-1 city council, a new city manager, restructuring of city management, and with great public support,” Searle said. “This would be a big win for Austin.”

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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