Denver Government

Denver City Council, Auditor Clash Over Interview Protocol

Denver Auditor Tim O'Brien is clashing with Denver City Council.
Denver Auditor Tim O'Brien is clashing with Denver City Council. Tim O'Brien Facebook
Although the holiday season has arrived, there's no cheer between Denver City Council and Denver Auditor Tim O'Brien, whose team is auditing the operations of council.

"We started the audit five weeks ago, and one of the things that you have to do is interview people, and the council president will not allow us to interview people unless there is another council staff member in the room," says O'Brien. "That runs contrary to our audit standards."

So O'Brien has paused the audit of Denver City Council's operations until council leadership allows his team to conduct the audits without council staff present in the interviews. But it doesn't appear that either President Stacie Gilmore or President Pro Tem Jamie Torres are budging.

“We have been and continue to fully participate in this audit, and I find it very disappointing that the auditor would resort to bullying council leadership rather than talking out any concerns to an agreeable resolution," says Gilmore.

Torres adds: “Council’s interest in having a staffer be in the room for observation and note-taking in no way undermines the auditor’s role, responsibility or authority. ... It is our staff who would feel more supported sitting with the auditor’s team if accompanied by a note taker so they can provide full attention to the questions. We remain interested in cooperating with the scheduled audit and have been thus far, but we won’t be bullied into decisions that have no legal basis.”

But according to O'Brien, allowing for a council staffer to be present during interviews would go against the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
"This is a normal process that we do with all the audits. The mayor and I have an understanding that he’s not going to ask departments to do something that’s contrary to the audit standards that we have to comply with," O'Brien says.

"City council is a separate branch of government, and is not subject to any agreement made by the mayor," responds council spokesperson Stacy Simonet. "City council is listening to its staff members and working to provide a reasonable environment for audit participation."

O'Brien notes that while other city agencies have made similar requests, his office is typically able to explain why having a staffer present during interviews is not appropriate and persuade the agency to agree.

"I hope they talk it over and change their minds," he concludes. "I can’t conduct the audit under their standards. That doesn’t make sense."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.