Viewpoint: Why I favor a forensic audit

The Ashland City Council at its July 5 business meeting as seen in an RVTV video.
July 8, 2022

The more we know, the better off we are in righting our financial ship

By Julie Akins

At the July 5 Ashland City Council meeting the term “forensic audit” was used several times. In a string of conversation on social media, I suggested it might be a good idea to conduct a forensic audit and an explanation was demanded. My sentence became an unexpected agenda item. I wasn’t prepared then, but I am now.

Mayor Julie Akins: "An audit might tell us more, especially one that goes back five years. The more we know, the better off we are in righting our financial ship. It’s a reasonable idea. I don’t see why anyone would be offended."
Julie Akins

In accounting, the typical use of the term applies to “looking for any unusual developments in the accounting and financial systems” of an organization.

The city’s former Finance Director, Alison Chan, now retired, suggested a thorough look at the city’s finances before she left. She said that the city’s finances were not “clean” due to a variety of financial practices over the years. I concur, as did the majority of councilors nodding their heads when she said it.

She didn’t imply criminal wrongdoing in suggesting this and I am not either. How could anyone know what will be discovered in an audit until it’s complete? But any organization with millions of dollars spent annually does well to take a step back and do the kind of auditing that’s done so deeply nothing is missed, that’s typically a “forensic audit.”

Here are some facts we already know: We’ve had four different finance directors in five years, each with a different way of doing things. We’ve been discussing a structural deficit for two years. And last year’s finance director made a significant error which Alison had to discover and correct. We know that without an audit. An audit might tell us more, especially one that goes back five years. The more we know, the better off we are in righting our financial ship. It’s a reasonable idea. I don’t see why anyone would be offended.

I brought this up on social media because that’s one of the places I speak to Ashlanders in these uncertain pandemic times.

Just as I stop and talk at the store, it’s my job to listen and answer whenever I can. It’s what helped me know Ashland residents would not pass the doomed multi-million dollar city hall bond, it’s what informed me the jail bond would not be popular with Ashland voters, it still informs me that residents do not want to pay higher fees on their utility bills and that most residents are deeply concerned about a lack of reasonable housing.

It’s doing my job in the 21st Century. In this modern era people elected to represent must enter dialogue with residents where they are and that’s on various social media platforms. So that’s where I go to listen, try out ideas and see what people think.

It’s a very unsophisticated view to imagine that social media plays no role in community discourse or that I am to exclude myself in such discourse. I’m not always correct in my assumptions, trying them out on social media is one way to “road test” them. Some people think interacting with the public as I do is not “mayoral” but to me nothing is more “mayoral” than speaking to people and doing my best to represent them. I am not above anyone or below anyone. I am just another neighbor working for our town.

I intend to keep doing that.

Email Ashland Mayor Julie Akins at julie@council.ashland.or.us.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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