Probing into the workings of City Hall

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 7, 2010 - 7:00 PM

Are you a wonk of color? The city's Charter Commission will be needing new members.

Today's offering gives a sneak preview of your chance to sit on the Minneapolis Charter Commission, as well as a glimpse into upcoming audits within City Hall and the latest update on the Third Ward aide body count.

Calling all wonks

Three openings are in sight on the city's 15-member Charter Commission during the first half of 2011, offering an opportunity for those whose idea of a good time is spending several hours a month peering into the workings of Minneapolis government.

The expiring slots are held by Chairman Barry Clegg and members Thomas Jancik and Ian Stade. Clegg and likely Jancik will seek reappointment, but Stade is stepping down in hopes that the opening he creates can be filled by someone who brings more diversity of background to the commission.

The all-white commission's lack of racial diversity in a city that's at least 35 percent minority has been noted repeatedly. Stade's departure also will leave only one member under age 40.

The commission operates as a sort of permanent constitutional convention to consider improvements for the city's foundational document, its charter. The commission studies and sometimes forwards suggestions that lead to charter changes that can occur either by a unanimous council vote or approval of 51 percent of those voting in a referendum. The job will get much more time-consuming as the commission takes on the work of redistricting the city, a power the voters granted it in a charter referendum last month.

Whether the commission diversifies racially will depend on two factors -- whether minority residents seek appointment and whether Hennepin County District Court Chief Judge James Swenson selects them. Swenson had no minority applicants to even consider in last year's round of appointments that filled a majority of the commission's seats. Stade hopes to change that by recruiting minority applicants for the seat he's vacating as of May 1.

Auditors unleashed

After a one-year hiatus, the city is back in the business of auditing its own internal affairs. The audit plan approved for 2011 offers a guide to the sensitive spots in the city bureaucracy that will warrant attention from the city's newly hired staff of three internal auditors.

Targets of interest are built from citywide interviews by city Internal Audit Director Magdy Mossaad and KPMG, a large audit and consulting firm. Possible audit targets were ranked by both the likelihood and impact of financial or other damage to the city.

Not surprisingly, much of the first year for auditors will be consumed in checking the integrity, controls over, and security of the city's basic financial and computer systems. Most noteworthy, Mossaad plans to hire professional hackers to test whether the computer networks can be penetrated. But his staff also plans to check whether access to data is controlled appropriately among city employees. They'll also check the testing of controls in such areas as financial reporting and cash handling.

Two large outside city contracts will be reviewed, one with Unisys for digital data outsourcing and the other with Ampco for operating city parking ramps. The data contract will be reviewed with an eye toward monitoring whether the city gets the services it pays for, and the parking contract will get scrutiny for cash handling.

Internally, auditors also will examine police scheduling and payroll reporting. They'll seek opportunities to cut sometimes difficult-to-manage police overtime, which has surprised the City Council at times, and to increase the efficiency of police scheduling.

They'll also delve into the management of the city's impound lot, which got earlier scrutiny under the city's old auditor regime. Among the topics for review are safeguards over the lot's handling of collected fees, and security concerns stemming from complaints that items go missing from cars towed there. The city's water billing collections will get some scrutiny as well.

Mossaad also is building a case for the potential hiring of two more auditors by showing additional work they could complete in the out years of his three-year audit plan. A review of the city's internal audit function in 2009 found a potential need for five auditors.

The audit plan will be updated annually. It was approved by the city's Audit Committee. But it didn't need approval from the council because the audit panel chaired by Council Member Diane Hofstede has gained a greater measure of independence since it was formed earlier this year.

That's attributable to Mark Oyaas, a lifelong city resident and the Park Board's appointee to the panel. Oyaas, steeped in the ways of City Hall as a former council aide and a lobbyist, argued successfully that a panel that's supposed to keep tabs on City Hall needs a greater degree of independence from the council than was afforded by its original status -- as a standing committee of the council.

The departed

Another aide has bitten the dust in Diane Hofstede's Third Ward office.

For those keeping track, the latest departure brings the body count of departed workers in Hofstede's two-assistant office to 24 during her five years on the job.

The latest policy aide to leave survived in the office for just 12 weeks.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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