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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter8:02 pmAug 13, 20120

City Council bats aside Pratt’s objections and passes audits bill

Controversial – and much amended – measure wins final approval in a New York minute.

Above: City Council President “Jack” Young presides over tonight’s Council meeting. Facing away from the camera in the foreground are Council members Helen Holton and Edward Reisinger.

After storms of controversy, a bill calling on Baltimore voters to decide if municipal agencies should be regularly audited passed the City Council as quickly as a summer squall.

The 14-member Council passed the legislation this evening seconds after the bill was announced on third and final reader.

There was no discussion. The bill now goes to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is expected to sign the measure since she won significant concessions when the bill went before the Council last month.

The only dissent came from City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who voted no after the Council vote without explanation. Young had earlier pronounced the bill “completely watered down” by amendments from the Rawlings-Blake administration.

Those amendments, passed tonight, require 13 city agencies to be audited every fourth year.

The original bill called on annual audits for all city agencies and was spurred by the “open secret” – publicized by citizen activists (here and here) – that some departments have not been audited in more than 25 years.

Pratt Asks for Changes

The only drama at tonight’s meeting came via a letter submitted by Comptroller Joan M. Pratt. She called on the Council to amend the bill to avoid “substantial duplication of effort” between her audit department and any independent accounting firm selected by city agencies for their fourth-year audits.

Her last-minute changes would have almost certainly delayed the legislation because amendments on third reader require 12 Council votes to pass. And any delay in tonight’s passage would have prevented the bill from meeting the deadline for charter amendments to appear on the November ballot.

One Councilman said the Pratt amendments had merit but were simply too late. Pratt has come under fire for the paucity of audits her office has conducted in recent years.

Under the bill, 13 city agencies would be independently audited every four years beginning in 2014: Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC), Finance, Fire, General Services, Housing and Community Development, Human Resources, Law, Planning, Police, Public Works, Recreation and Parks, Transportation and the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT).

In the 2013 budget, Mayor Rawlings-Blake has allocated additional funds for filling about four auditor positions in the Comptroller’s office that are currently vacant.

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