Columbus Councilor Glenn Davis was among seven councilors who voted to restore positions to the Muscogee County sheriff's and marshal's offices during a recent budget hearing. But he was the lone councilor to ask for something in return.
Davis asked Sheriff John Darr and Chief Marshal's Deputy Gary Moore, who was representing Marshal Greg Countryman, if they would allow the city's internal auditor to audit their departments' operations.
"I'll have to get back to you on that," Darr initially said, while Moore said he could not speak for Countryman on that request.
Countryman and Darr are two of four local elected officials, including Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce and Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton-Bishop, who are suing the city and its leadership over budget disputes.
Davis said he is simply trying to make all operations in the Consolidated Government more efficient and transparent. If there is no waste or inefficiencies to be found, then both elected officials should welcome a chance to have a third party point that out to the public, he said.
"It's all about transparency and accountability. I think the taxpayers want it, and demand it," Davis said. "It's really simple: Put your cards on the table. It's not that complicated. Just follow the numbers. If you've got issues, put your cards on the table."
As of Friday, Darr said he would welcome an audit, but not by John Redmond, the city's internal auditor. He said he would instead use someone who is familiar with law enforcement and the specifics of operating a Sheriff's Office.
"(The auditor) doesn't know the operations of law enforcement," Darr said. "I don't know if we need to hire anybody. I think we could reach out to someone in law enforcement. I would prefer another sheriff's office, someone who knows something about a sheriff's office to come in and do that."
Davis took issue with Darr's contention that the city's auditor isn't capable of auditing the Sheriff's Office.
"This is not about law enforcement," Davis said. "This is about budgets and line items. It's about numbers and taxpayers' dollars."
Countryman said Friday that he would welcome the city auditor, and that he's confident that he would find little, if anything, in the way of wasteful practices.
"I would welcome having an outside independent forensic auditor do an audit," Countryman said in an email response to questions. "A forensic audit, which can be very expensive, is only used in the case of possible wrongdoing or a lack of transparency. Neither is the case here."
Countryman further said that all elected officials already have independent external audits performed every year and that his office is no exception.
"Our office is an open book and there is no need to pay for any such audit," he said. "All of our expenditures are a matter of public record for anyone to see and we will cooperate fully with any citizen or councilor who wishes to see our operations."
All departments are periodically audited and elected officials must grant permission for an internal audit of operations.
But Countryman suggested there are better places to audit for wasteful spending, specifically the Civic Center, landfill and "the odd use and reservation of OLOST funds.
"(Davis) might also wish to examine why the city's reserve has shrunk from approximately 90 days to just a fraction over the critical 60 days since Mayor (Teresa) Tomlinson has been in office," Countryman said.
In response, Tomlinson said Countryman's statement was incorrect.
"The marshal's facts are off, of course. I have not had a 90-day reserve during my tenure," Tomlinson said. "Nevertheless, the shrinkage in the city's reserve fund has been a major source of conversation before council for many years now.
"The bold steps this administration and this council have taken has reversed that course in large part. We still have a long way to go and that is why the discussion on duplicative resources and proposed solutions to that problem -- audits or otherwise -- will continue."
According to city records, the reserve fund stood at about 130 days in 2007, before the start of the Great Recession. Over the next four years, it was drawn down by 50 days to an 80-day level in 2011, when Tomlinson took office. Over her first four years, it was drawn down by almost 20 days to its current level at just over 60 days.