The primary election for Tulsa City Auditor will be held June 11, 2013. Three candidates have filed for this nonpartisan office; Clift Richards-incumbent, Cathy Ann Criswell-former manager, and Joshua Steven Lewis. Tulsa Today invites all candidates to interview and spoke with Josh Lewis recently at a coffee shop near downtown.
Question: Why are you running for the position of Tulsa City Auditor?
Josh Lewis: I believe someone needs to do the job that is not being done. I enjoy my current job, but over the last four months I have researched this position. I have looked into what the auditor is supposed to do and measured that against what my last seven years of experience has taught me.
I know I can be an effective auditor for the City of Tulsa and darn sure I can do it better than the current City Auditor is doing which, at best, could be described as dereliction of duty. He has not performed with any relevance for any Tulsan or City Councilor. Living in Tulsa for the last 27 years, this is the best way I could serve the community and the area where I see that the greatest amount of good can be done. From this office; citizens are getting the least amount of return for the buck.
Question: Summarize your experience for us if you will.
Josh Lewis: I became a certified public account in 2009. I have worked with two reputable auditing firms in Tulsa: BKD for over two years which served as the outside audit team for the City of Tulsa where I specialized in government accounting and Sartain Fischbein & Co – Tulsa’s largest local CPA firm. I currently work for Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones in the Tulsa office. I played a prominent role in the EMSA investigative audit that recently made headlines for uncovering wasteful and extravagant spending that was inappropriate for a public trust. In the State Auditor’s office for the past two years; I’ve specialized in auditing county governments, federal grants, emergency medical services, and performing multiple investigative/fraud engagements. It has been very valuable experience.
Question: Your mention of the current auditor was not complementary. Please explain for our readers what is happening in the office and what is not.
Josh Lewis: Article IV of the City Charter spells out clearly seven bullet points on what the City Auditor should be doing, but chief among those is that the City Auditor is required to examine every; account, department, agency, and, generally every financial aspect of the city. This had historically been accomplished by assessing the risk of each area that could be audited then focusing on those areas that need it most. They have, on infrequent occasions, done that. But in the three years the current auditor has held the office, he has done only one risk assessment plan. He identified 32 specific projects that had to be audited in order to stay in compliance with the City Charter. While they have until June 30, 2013, they have only done somewhere between 22 to 25 percent of the standard they set in their plan. I suspect, by June 30, they will not be able to accomplish the remaining 75 percent of their own plan. They have also failed to get any outside firm to come in and review their processes as they are required to do once every five years. They should have engaged with an outside auditor over ten months ago.
ROMA or Report On Management Actions on page six has a very telling bar graph that shows the enormous drop in audit recommendations and findings since Cliff Richards, our current city auditor, took office. It is about a third of what his predecessor accomplished.
In twenty-five years, Tulsa has only had three city auditors and the basic structure of the office has not changed. It is very telling that the city auditor receives more money than the entire mayor’s office for staff expenses, but I bet you could not find many Tulsans that could tell you what the city auditor has done for them individually or for the city.
The City Auditor is allotted 13 positions and for the last five years they have had approximately ten people – apparently unable to find others to fill the open positions. Several of those positions are earning six figure incomes. I am not disputing the salaries, but the fact is that citizens are paying an enormous amount for an audit office from which we are getting very little benefit.
Question: When the form of government changed, the city auditor position was promised to be the counter-balance to the dominance of a strong-mayor. That has not happened. Will you execute the responsibilities and utilize the platform of the office regardless of; political pressure, business influence and/or media?
Josh Lewis: Though a life-long Republican, I am the only truly independent candidate running for this office. As an auditor, I recognize the value and importance of being independent of the entity the auditor audits. Of the other two candidates, one was appointed by Mayor Dewey Bartlett and the other both openly supports and was appointed by former-mayor Kathy Taylor now running again for the office.
If the auditor is to be the check-and-balance to the mayor as the City Charter requires, they must be independent of the mayor – any mayor. I have no established relationships with any candidate for the mayor’s office and that sets me apart from my opponents.
The question, not for me, but for all Tulsans to seriously consider is: After a quarter century of our tax dollars supporting the office of City Auditor (in greater amounts than we give to the mayor’s office) have we gotten our money’s worth? If Tulsans want a candidate that will do something different in an office they have most likely never heard of, then I am the only choice for Tulsa City Auditor.