The Denver city auditor plans to sue the local department of human services for access to records that were withheld during a routine audit of the low-income gift card program.
By denying access to the record, auditors charge, it is impossible to determine whether the program is working properly.
Auditor Dennis Gallagher made the announcement during a meeting of the city audit committee Thursday and he received unanimous approval to pursue the lawsuit, according to the Denver Post.
The city human services department has spent about $166,000 on gift cards to low-income clients in 2012. The cards were used for such things as food, bedding and clothes, but the agency’s managers have refused to hand over records showing who received the cards and in what amounts, citing confidentiality rules at the state and local level.
But Gallagher said the Denver City Charter explicitly allows his office access to all city records. Audit committee members agreed with him.
“The city charter trumps everything,” board member Timothy O’Brien is quoted as saying in the Denver Post.
“That is where the people have spoken. Not elected members,” he said, speaking to Barbara Shaklee, an attorney for the human services department. “This power comes from the people. You are acting contrary to the people.”
“You have done nothing but obfuscate this issue.”
The audit report emphasizes that refusal to hand over records makes it impossible to determine whether the agency is doing its job.
“During multiple previous attempts, the Auditor’s Office has been materially impeded from executing our Charter-level oversight requirements due to limitations [Department of Human Services] has placed on our access to information,” the report said.
Auditors are particularly concerned about fraud and abuse in the gift card program, with the report citing an investigation of a similar program in Baltimore which revealed “multiple issues including inadequate tracking of gift cards, unauthorized use and theft of gift cards, and inadequate segregation of duties over gift card administration.”
“Our limited access to DHS records prohibited us from fully reviewing and assessing this type of risk,” the report said. “Our review of the policy and procedure for gift cards, the gift card tracking log, and the gift card inventory results did not provide sufficient data to determine whether or not [Department of Human Services} has adequate internal controls for gift cards.”
In signaling his support of Gallagher’s plan to sue for the unredacted records, board member Jeff Hart cited the need for transparency in government during a time when public confidence is at an all-time low.
"It is a shame that it has had to come to this," he’s quoted as saying in the Denver Post. "It chips away at that public confidence in government. The public trust in government is at an all-time low. The [Department of Human Services] is digging in their heels on this and finding every way to say no and making things as confusing as possible and finding no way out is a very sad state of affairs.”
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