Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Electoral College

During my many years of teaching at Regis University I gave an opening quiz which asked several questions dealing with the US Constitution and other governmental points of interest. I always included a question asking the students to explain the “Electoral College.”

I got some hilarious answers over the years and I wish I had saved those as it would make a great book; “Did a College student really say that?”

One student thought it was the Electoral College that prayed and then elected the pope. Remember Regis is a Jesuit school. Another thought that it was a college which taught all about electricity. A third student had heard of it and thought his uncle had attended that college somewhere in the South. And over the years answers went on and on.

This year I came up with a fun way to teach students and the citizens what the Electoral College was and why we should know about it.

So with the Democratic convention selecting Denver as the host city for the convention this year, I had a post card prepared showing the electoral vote in 1908 by state.

“My Red and Blue State Challenge” asked people by October 15 to pick the states that each candidate would win and thus the number of electoral votes each presidential candidate would get in the election cycle ending November 4, 2008. And later tonight we will calculate how many correctly identified how the states and how many electoral votes each candidate got. We will place all the winning cards in a hat and draw the winner of two nights in Vale for their thoughtful efforts. Some folks thought this contest frivolous in light of the financial crisis facing our nation. How can Gallagher be having such fun with the nation at the brink of a great depression?

Some say our greatest threat facing us as a nation is the deficit. Others say the horrendous debt we are passing on to our children’s children is the number one threat to our nation. Others opine that our greatest threat is from foreign terrorists waiting to blow us up with bombs strapped to their bodies. Certainly these issues are all serious and, indeed, depressing.

But I believe the greatest threat to our Republic is the ignorance of our citizens to our system of government. Thomas Jefferson wrote it so eloquently so long ago. “No nation can be ignorant and free. That’s something that never has been, nor never will be in all the world.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Snow Flurries

Snow Flurries

“Snow is what you are up to your neck in when people send you post cards from Florida saying they wish you were there.”

Ogden Nash’s old line summarized how I and other members of the City of Denver’s Audit Committee felt after briefing on our audit finding internal control weaknesses at Denver International Airport dealing with the time accountability of snow removal program.

This comment made about as much sense as the answer from the airport administration on the snow removal audit. Snow job.

One Committee member expressed his outrage at the lack of internal controls in the program and asked pointedly, “Do you think the actions of DIA employees misusing dollars were willful?” The two auditors who worked on the audit replied, “Willful.”

Two issues add to the frustration of Audit Committee member and the Auditor’s Office on this audit:

Firstly, early written comments from airport management said they agreed with findings in the audit. But after the committee hearing, another official voice from the airport announced they did not agree with audit findings which auditors felt strongly should be turned over to the District Attorney for review. Everything is just fine, pass the white out.

Secondly a DIA spokesman, responding to a Committee members's use of the words 'misuse of tax dollars’ drew a fine distinction about airport dollars. For some reason the airport representative felt the need to remind committee members that the Airport was an Enterprise Fund. The unspoken implication of the distinction was that there is a difference in accountability for dollars extracted from people by the city operating as an airport compared to dollars extracted from citizens for general government purposes. I objected to this distinction and said there should be no difference in accountability concerning “public” dollars whatever their source.

We hope the airport can land on its feet after the initial slipping and sliding around on this issue. Working together I hope we can eventually land on the sunny side of the snowdrift on this issue.

I encourage readers to check the Auditor’s Webpage to see the full audit recommendations.

What do you know about your government?

During my many years of teaching at Regis University here in Denver, I always started off each class with a brief questionnaire asking the students (mostly freshman) to list their federal senators, congressional representative, and governor. I would ask them to write about any Supreme Court case about which they had heard. For imaginary extra credit I asked them to identify their local state senator, house member, mayor and their council member. I asked them to tag one member of the current President’s cabinet and the Comptroller General of the United States. Who?

I asked them to recognize various names from recent American history: Cesar Chavez; Hubert Humphrey; Joe McCarthy; Adlai Stevenson; Arthur Goldberg; Rosa Parks; John Lindsey; John L. Lewis; Margaret Mead; Senator Hayakawa; Charles DeGalle; Emma Lazarus and lots of others. Students from California thought Cesar Chavez was a prize fighter. They were partially correct as there is a prize fighter there named, Julio Cesar Chavez. Students knew some of their elected officials by state. Identifying a cabinet member and the Comptroller received very low responses. Students complained that these people had died before “we were even born.” Many students could select Supreme Court cases they knew about, but not much detail. Over the years, the students who seemed to know the most about all these questions hailed from Chicago.

In a similar vein, I felt like Jay Leno recently when he does his “Jaywalking.” I asked people to tell me what they knew about the “electoral college.” Some of the answers caused me great laughter: “Is that where you are teaching now, since you left Regis? Isn’t that the group who elects the Pope?”

So I prepared a welcome piece for the DNC with a postcard showing how the nation’s electoral votes went in 1908. The other side of the card asked readers to calculate how each state’s electoral votes would go in our 2008 election. I called it the “Red and blue state challenge.” The deadline for the challenge is October 15th. The cards of those reckoning the correct totals each candidate receives from the November election will be placed in a bowl and the winning name will be drawn for two nights in Vail in winter or four nights in summer.

I send the “Red and Blue State Challenge” to city workers and was criticized. The nation is falling apart and Auditor Gallagher is playing tiddlywinks with city workers and giving them a pop quiz.

Peter McLaughlin, renowned motivational speaker who lives here in Denver, emailed me and told me to continue to bring some levity into the lives of city workers. “All the research shows that a little levity in the work place increases productivity.”

Some say our greatest threat is the economic crisis; others say our unconscionable debt or the foreign terrorists. I think the greatest threat to our Republic is the vast ignorance which our citizens show to our governmental structure and processes. Ben Franklin’s fateful words when asked after the meeting originally called to amend the Articles of Confederation. He was asked “What hath we wrought?” In today’s words: “What kind of government have we come up with, Mr. Franklin?” His answer: “A republic, if you can keep it.” I pray we will be able to keep the Republic and keep our people properly informed as to how a republic works.

The Yellow Book

Have you heard of “The Yellow Book?”

The Yellow Book is the collection of Government Auditing Standards issued and updated from time to time by the Comptroller General of the United States. The 2007 Denver City Charter change, supported by the mayor, the council and me wrote into the charter language which charged the Denver Auditor’s Office to follow all standards from the Yellow Book in all audits performed. Tim O’Brien, former Colorado State Auditor and member of the City of Denver’s newly constituted independent audit committee opined that “having the Yellow Book in the Denver Charter is a very strong backup tool for any audit performed by the Denver Auditor’s Office.”

Chapter 3 of the Yellow Book covers general standards and the number one standard for all auditors, “whether government or public, must be free from personal, external, and organizational impairments to independence, and must avoid the appearance of such impairments of independence.”

Why do auditors have to fight for independence? As most Denverites know the Auditor’s Office is a nesting ground for future mayors. Many auditors have run for mayor while occupying the auditor’s chair. I am not. Now, I am not impuning that popular historic pattern of office climbing practiced by so many of my predecessors. And ambition, properly directed, is good. St. Paul says it’s good for young clerics to be ambitious seeking to be bishops. But the ambition we have to steer clear of is the extreme ambition of, let’s say, MacBeth whose ambition leapt over itself and fell on the other side.

Auditors must maintain independence “so that their opinions, findings, conclusions, judgments and recommendations” offered to management “will be impartial and viewed as impartial by objective third parties with knowledge of the relevant information.”

So an auditor running for mayor, whose ambition calls into question every action of an administration and its agency, in my view, may impair an auditor’s independence. This impairment is mentioned in the Yellow Book. It is called a “personal” impairment.

So in conclusion, in order for audit recommendations to be taken seriously, the source of the suggestions have to be free of “personal” impairments, external impairments and organizational impairments. We are sure glad we have the Yellow Book as a guide.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


The other day in the elevator at the Webb Building at 201 West Colfax two city workers got in the up elevator with me. It was clear to me that one of the employees was a recent hire. My humility was fortified as it was also clear that neither of my fellow city workers knew that I was Denver’s Auditor. The older and wiser worker, perhaps a supervisor, made clear her department’s attitude toward the Auditor’s Office.

“And remember whatever you do, never talk to anyone from the Auditor’s Office,” the new hire was informed. The words were delivered in an indignant tone. “What the Auditor’s office doesn’t know won’t then come back to bite us” was the attitude and tone of the comment.

I introduced myself to them as they got out on their floor. I gave them my card and told them they could trust me with any information they wished to share.

The path to the mountain top of trust is a long and arduous path for some of our employees and indeed the people themselves. I assure you I am doing everything I can to change that negative attitude toward trust. I believe it was Lao Tzu the ancient Chinese philosopher who said, “Without the trust of the people, the government can do nothing.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Babi Yar

Babi Yar Park, Denver, Sunday, September 28, 2008

“No monument stands over Babii Yar. A drop sheer as a crude gravestone. I am afraid.”
With these words of complaint, Yevgeny Yevtushenko the great Russian poet opens his mournful and grief-stricken poem about Babi Yar. He bitterly and bravely berates the Soviet Government for not putting up a proper memorial to commemorate the civilian massacre during World War II at a ravine called Babi Yar near Kiev in the Ukraine.

Soviet Russia built no monument to memorialize this Nazi atrocity.

In contrast, the city of Denver has had for many years a most fitting and proper memorial to remind us of this tragic inhumanity.

Babi Yar Park at Parker Road and Havana in Denver.

I was honored to attend a very solemn ceremony last Sunday, September 28, 2008, at Babi Yar Park. The ceremony commemorated the 67th anniversary of the 1941 Nazi murder of over half of the Jews of Kiev. For two days, the Nazis slaughtered Jewish men, women and children, with the vast majority being women and children, at a deserted ravine called Babi Yar, outside the city. For a long time thereafter, they murdered “others:” gypsies, Ukrainians, over 100,000 in all. Rabbi Richard Rheins of Temple Sinai here in Denver reminded us that later the Nazis returned and had prisoners dig up the dead and destroy their bodies in order to eliminate the evidence of their atrocities.

Midway in the program, Maria Verizhnikova emotionally read Yevtushenko’s poem in Russian and translated it into English. Maria’s reading, a symphonic requiem of sound and fury, reminded me of a project I assigned in my Mass Media class which I taught for many years at Regis. The text for the class was a media workbook by Marshall McLuhan, and Eric McLuhan, his son, entitled, Media, Messages and Language: The World as Your Classroom. Many of the exercises suggested by McLuhan’s text probe the nature of ground/figure analysis in relation to various media. The exercises helped the students understand the nature of the different media.
One exercise illustrated the power of spoken language, this time a foreign language, Russian, expertly proclaimed by Yevtushenko to communicate the powerful themes of his poem to those who knew no Russian. I would ask my students to listen to a recording (ancient technology) of Yevtushenko reading his poem. Though they knew no Russian, I then asked my students to listen carefully as Yevtushenko recited his Russian words in the poem and write down what images or thoughts came into their minds as they resonated to the harsh sounds of his voice and the gloomy tones of his words. Students in every class over my many years of teaching wrote down words like “Anger, terror, death, sadness, destruction, and fear.” Yevtushenko’s deep voice proclaimed for my students the litany of sad emotions he wrote about in his poem. The experience allowed Yevtushenko’s words of the poem to become a new figure to a unique sound ground. I recommend that readers try the same exercise and listen to Yevtushenko reciting this poem. Let his words flow into you like a mighty stream.

The wind gusts blew down one of the flags at the ceremony. Someone wearing a yarmulke up righted the flag and stood by holding it against the wind. The long prairie grasses at Babi Yar’s Denver Park rustled in the dry hot wind.

“The wild grasses rustle over Babii Yar.
The trees look ominous, like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head
slowly I feel myself turning gray.
And I myself am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am each old man here shot dead.
I am every child here shot dead.
Nothing in me shall ever forget.” (From the poem).

Julian Bonder, architect for the newly refurbished Babi Yar in Denver, gave the keynote address. Bonder spoke of Emanuel Levinas, the renowned French--Jewish philosopher who probed in his writings, “who is the ‘other in our lives, who is our neighbor?” Levinas asked this question in light of the atrocities like Babi Yar committed in World War II. How was it that so many could kill “other” human beings? It was fitting and proper, after hearing Yevtushenko’s poem, that Bonder reminded us that Levinas wanted all human beings to commit to an ethical relationship with any “other” as soon as one beheld the face of the other and looked into the other’s eyes. Levinas at that moment asks us to be compelled at that special communicative moment to realize “the other” is a human being like ourselves. Apologies for such a brief summary of Levinas theory here but you get the drift.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Victorian Jesuit poet in his poem “As Kingfishers…” suggests the face of the “other” is indeed the face of God himself.

Yehoshua Hoffman, son of Lillian Hoffman, who fought for many years in Denver to allow Soviet Jews to leave Russia, said Kaddish for all who were slalughtered at Babi Yar.

The noon day sun beat down on the huge black marble monuments at the entrance to the park. The yellow leaves rustled in the wind offering a promise that winter and cold was on the way. People left to go on park tours or head for home.

“My need is that we gaze into each other.” (From the poem).

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Long time Ago

A long time ago, Sr. Margaret Loyola Scanlon, S. L., my beloved principal at Holy Family High School in North Denver once said to me:

“Dennis, we all have to operate in an atmosphere of Internal Control. Even our church bingo has two sets of hands and eye’s counting and reviewing the money, and someone else makes the deposit. We even assign two students to count the proceeds for tickets sold at the Senior Prom. Internal Control is the key to good economics.” Every time I hear the words “lack of internal control,” and we hear those words a lot in our audits of Denver’s agencies, I think of Sr. Margaret Loyola and her wise words. If she is ever canonized, she will be the patron of Auditors and Internal Control.

While the legislation changes moment by moment, perhaps the most egregious weakness of the proposed $700 Billion bailout of Wall Street proposed by the Bush administration is a total lack of internal control. That the administration has asked Congress to hurry up and hand over $700 Billion to one individual, with no other set of hands and eyes to be accountable for the distribution of those dollars is the total and unconscionable lack of internal control. Sr. Margaret would be furious.

Forty four years ago Robert Kennedy told us in The Pursuit of Justice, “The problem of power is not to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use—of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.” If Congress rushes to give unbridled power to one individual the nation will mirror what Edmund Burke warned five years before our Declaration of Independence, “the greater the power, the greater the abuse.” And the powerful will continue to abuse our patience.

The folks that got us in this mess and now want the bailout should have heard what else Sr. Margaret Loyola shared with me about internal control. “Dennis, I will not always be around to make sure you practice proper personal and financial internal control. But, remember, Dennis, God is always watching and knows whether you are exercising internal control.”

In this time of trial will we be able to find those who live for the public rather than off the public?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A depression story appropriate for today

On the way up in the elevator to the Denver Auditor’s Office early this morning, with the largest Us Government financial bailout, yes, the very same 700 billion bailout of our financial crisis on everyone’s mind, someone asked me, “Auditor, are we heading for a 1929 Depression?”

I told him we are in for a lot of major economic pain and it will be very depressing.

I thought of my mother and her parents who lived at 2528 Hooker in North Denver. I always think of that house when the Great Depression comes to mind. The house sat just west of Old St. Dominic’s Church at West 25th and Grove Streets. When the Dominican Friars ran out of food for the homeless during the Great Depression, the 1929 Depression, they would say “Go over there to Mrs. Flaherty, she always keeps sandwiches in her ice box.” I remember that ice box, with heavy wooden and metal doors, and I often enjoyed slamming the doors, loud clanging thunder.

My mother told me she once asked her mother, “Mom, why do we give those guys from the roads and rail yard the sandwiches?

She answered that in Ireland, the place of her birth; it was customary to give strangers and travelers food without question. The legend had it that it could be a test by God to test the charity of an individual for which one could be accountable on the final day of reckoning.

“You know, Nellie, one of these men from the rail yards, could be St. Joseph in disguise to test our charity and to text our faith,” my grandmother added.

One day, my grandmother heard my mother slam the kitchen door on a solicitous traveler.

My grandmother rushed into the kitchen from the small dining room and asked, “Nellie, why did you slam the door on that poor man?”

“Momma, that man was no St. Joseph, that man had the smell of liquor on his breath,” my mother responded indignantly.

Without a pause, my grandmother shouted to her, “Nellie, go get that man and bring him back, it could be St. Patrick himself.”

At all our family reunions, the air was thick with Depression stories, depressing orphanage stories, years of painful homelessness and families divided.

I was hoping my son, Daniel, and all his many cousins might be spared the anvil test of a Great Depression. I was hoping they might not face a painful economic reckoning and depressing stories at family gatherings. Now I am not so sure.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Welcome to my blog. I am Denver's Auditor, Dennis Gallagher and as such I thought it important to share thoughts with you - and receive yours- regarding audits, accountability and all things Denver.

We have entered a new era of accountability in Denver and an expanded and enhanced performance audit role for the Denver Auditor's office. But it is not enough to do audits and share the information with City Council and the Mayor, the citizenry must be aware of our findings as well. That is why televise our audit reports as they are presented to the newly independent Denver Audit Committee and that is why I have started this blog; as another way of reaching out to Denver residents to help provide them with the information they need to make good decisions about Denver's government.

So again, welcome.