After closed-door meeting, council is unable to select new auditing firm

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council tonight (Aug. 17) was unable to decide which firm should take over the job of city auditor — a controversial move that a former city auditor has called a “stunningly bad idea.”

The city auditor position has remained unfilled for 18 months since the previous city auditor, Harriet Richardson, left in February 2019.

Council met in private tonight to decide which of three firms will get a two-year $750,000 contract from the city.

The three contenders are Eide Bailly LLP of Fargo, N.D., Moss Adams LLP of Seattle and Baker Tilly Virchow Krause of Chicago.

But at the end of the council’s closed-door meeting, Mayor Adrian Fine said no decisions were made.

The $750,000 contract will allow the city to reduce its spending on the auditor’s office by $250,000. The city budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30 called for four full-time positions in the auditor’s office including the city auditor.

City council candidate Rebecca Eisenberg called into council’s Zoom meeting to say she doesn’t think the city should outsource the auditing position because it will mean forcing a member of the community out of a job.

The position has been empty since Richardson left.

The city has had an auditor since 1983 after residents voted to change the city’s charter, its governing document, to add the position.

Former city auditor Sharon Erickson, who held the position from 2001 to 2008, said that the office primarily does performance audits of city operations to point problems out within the city before they “blew up into a scandal that would be in the Palo Alto papers,” Erickson said.

“I think this whole plan is a stunningly bad idea. The council is circumventing the charter with this proposal to outsource,” Erickson said. “We saw ourselves as the eyes and ears of the public in the organization,” Erickson said, pointing out that the office she used to hold made sure that the city’s money was being spent efficiently and effectively.