Not many cities have their own internal financial audit committee. San Diego has one. Comprised of three outside finance experts and headed by councilmember Kevin Faulconer (with councilmember Carl DeMaio serving as vice chair), the committee’s mission is to bring some accountability to the fiscal folly that has plagued San Diego politics for years. Of course, accountability also depends on if chief financial officer Mary Lewis and Mayor Sanders cooperate.
At the March 23 meeting of San Diego’s Audit Committee, a lawyer from the city attorney’s office explained the city’s decision to release the comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) for fiscal year 2008 without the Audit Committee's or city council’s approval.
Referring to a Saturday, March 21, memo, issued to Audit Committee members minutes before the meeting, a lawyer from the city attorney’s office said the financial report was hastily submitted to meet a March 26 deadline set in place by Securities and Exchange Commission guidelines.
“While we’re going to have an executed audit letter from the Macias Firm for the fiscal 2008 financial statements by March 25, we will not have had the audit reviewed by the Audit Committee or received and filed by the city council,” said the lawyer.
Kevin Faulconer was unable to include the item on the committee’s agenda because he wasn’t notified of the audit. “I would just say that if we know in advance, I would certainly always make time on our Audit Committee agendas, but I can’t do that if I’m not aware of it in advance. I’m not quite sure why I’m getting this now…”
“Mr. Faulconer,” interrupted DeMaio, “I share your concern, and I think it’s unacceptable to have this dropped on this committee at such a late date.”
CFO Mary Lewis explained the decision to file the financial report without the Audit Committee’s approval.
“The deadline is the same every year, but we have been out of sync with our annual CAFRs. So, we have been basically issuing financial reports without audited statements.”
“The fact that this comes to the committee at -- worse than the 11th hour -- at 11:59, really is absolutely unacceptable,” responded DeMaio. “This is not how we should be doing business in the city of San Diego, and you would think this message would have sunk in by now. This is an annual date, like Christmas: we know this is coming up. We should have been planning for this.”
“We have been planning on this, sir," said Lewis, "and as a result of the discussion on Friday, it seemed prudent to approach the Audit Committee with the best advice from our disclosure council. I apologize for the lateness. I totally agree with you, and we take responsibility for that.”
“The idea that it just dawned on you Friday, that we should be changing this practice from the prior year… You are going to be doing this without city council approval. I just hope you know that and recognize that. I don’t find this as acceptable business practice.”
For more on the audit committee, go to sandiego.gov.