City Council Interference Delays Audit

Published on December 21, 2021

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DENVER – Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA, has paused a planned audit of Denver City Council operations because council leadership refuses to allow my office to comply with required audit standards.

“Council leadership won’t allow their own staff to have open and honest conversations with my audit team,” Auditor O’Brien said. “This intimidating behavior throws a wet blanket on our audit work.”

Auditor O’Brien met with council leadership to discuss their request for us to conduct all staff interviews with senior staff members or an attorney present. But Auditor O’Brien and council leadership could not agree on a solution that would comply with the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“My authority as Auditor comes from the people,” Auditor O’Brien said. “The people voted to update the charter and require that we follow Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards. This requirement is not subject to change by the City Council.”

Conducting unrestricted interviews with staff is a standard step for performance auditing and the auditing profession.

Audit standards say interviews held under conditions in which people may not speak freely are not as reliable. Reliable evidence is a standard requirement when auditors support findings and conclusions in their work. The required standards also say auditors must reduce audit risk to an acceptably low level.

“If City Council employees are required to be interviewed in the presence of senior staff, employees may be hesitant to speak openly about what is and is not working in council operations,” Auditor O’Brien said.

Approximately five years ago, Mayor Hancock and I reached and understanding that his administration would not attempt to keep audits from being conducted according to government auditing standards, even if that was not the desire of a particular department or agency. The executive branch has followed that agreement, including unrestricted staff interviews for all our audits. Generally Accepted Audit Standards are a requirement of the Denver Charter, they are not conditional, and must be followed regardless of the government body under audit. Although the legislative branch is not subject to the direction of the executive branch, we believe City Council cannot not be treated differently and cannot not expect our office to compromise its professional standards for this audit. 

“I hope to resolve this quickly with support from the full council,” Auditor O’Brien said. “We had been planning this audit for more than a year, so this work should come as no surprise to the council.”

We added the City Council operations audit to our Audit Plan in 2020 at the request of some City Council members. A swift resolution to this delay would benefit the public we serve and support more efficient and effective council operations in the future.

You can find more information about the Auditor and recent audits at on our website.

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