As the Budget Committee meeting I have discussed draws closer, one thing that continues to come to the forefront of my mind is the entire premise and agenda for this meeting.
It is what I have discussed before, the premise that the solution will have nothing to do with analyzing our budget expenditures. The solution will be a determination with whether we will re-structure our debt and/or raise our taxes.
By most principals involved, we are being told that we must do one of the two, or both. We are told there are no other options.
Yet, no one has explained to me, and I have not heard why we cannot even look into other options.
Well, coincidentally, I came across this post by TCCA Executive Director David Connor on commission a memorandum received on "Audit Committees" for local governments. This post is interesting in its entirety and I would encourage you to check it out. I have also pulled the Tennessee statute is referenced for my own review (if you would like a copy of the text, e-mail me).
I am very interested in this form/type of committee. Here's why: This seems to address the very concerns that I referenced in my opening paragraphs – fiscal responsibility. This issue was one I ran on and it is one I heard time and time again in my walks through District 10. Many of my fellow commissioners have expressed the same that they have heard from their own districts. An "Audit committee" could
conceivably address the very items brought to my attention during my door-knocking throughout District 10: fiscal responsibility - "transparency" and "accountability."
Here is what jumped out to me from the Tennessee statute:
(b) The governing body of the local government shall create the audit committee. The audit committee members shall be external to management and may be members of the governing body, citizens from within the boundaries of the local government, or a combination of both. Members of the audit committee shall be selected by the legislative body. The audit committee shall establish responsibilities and duties that are stated in a resolution approved by the legislative body. The responsibilities and duties, at a minimum, shall address financial and other reporting practices, internal control, compliance with laws and regulations, and ethics. The resolution creating the duties and responsibilities of the audit committee shall be submitted to the comptroller prior to approval by the legislative body. The comptroller shall review the proposed resolution and report back to the local government on whether the resolution follows recommended guidelines for an audit committee. The resolution adopted by the legislative body must conform to the report issued by the comptroller. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-3-405(b) (emphasis added)And, there it is, I think that would be the most effective way to be "transparent" and "accountable," instead of the status quo of telling you the way it is, and the way it will be. This General Assembly encourages local leaders to defer and cooperate with "citizens from within the boundaries" by encouraging them to be a part of the process.
Instead of just going back to the same modes and means that got the County into this fiscal position, it is time to think of other modes and means. An "audit committee" may be part of the solution, and it may not be the solution. It is just a different an idea. I just know that the same old solutions applied to the same old problems is what I got the County in this position in the first place.
Maybe it is time to think of other options like this instead of running first to re-structure and tax increases.
It is what you, the "citizens from within the boundaries," do with your own family budgets.
It may be worth looking into this year, this new year, since it is a new idea. For as the memorandum goes on to state:
We believe well structured audit committees can improve the financial management and overall governance of governmental entities in Tennessee. Our office (County Audit) has encouraged the establishment of an audit committee in local governments for many years. However, very few local governments have an effective audit committee. We believe in today's environment of fewer resources and increased demand for transparency and accountability, it is time to focus on the audit committee as an effective tool to improve the operations of local governments.Maybe this new idea is ripe for this County? If not this, then there should be others out there…