Lately I have been feeling a lot like Professor Charles Kingsfield,
(John Hausman) in the old movie, "the Paper Chase." The movie
dramatized the hectic lives of young law students struggling to outwit
the unflappable Professor Kingsfield during question periods in his
grinding and difficult contract law class. Professor Kingsfield
snarls at his students at the opening of the class, "Now your brains
are full of mush, but eventually you will start thinking like lawyers."
Every now and again my being Auditor pushes me into thinking like a
lawyer. I long for order, logic and common sense approaches to problems
confronting the city. Let me give you some recent and repetitive
You may have read that 3 years ago I sent a letter to the Mayor and
Council about the issue of work starting at the city before a contract
was signed. Auditor's staff informed me that almost 800 (80%) of 1000
contracts reviewed started before the contract for the work was signed
and finalized. I sent another letter of concern this year alerting the
administration and council that work starting on city contracts before
the contract is signed is about 75%. So as you can see, there has been
some improvement, but not much. I know we can do better and the
taxpayers expect us to do better. I believe we now have council and
the mayor's attention to this important quality control issue. I am
concerned that starting work before the city and another parity or
parties agree leaves the city open to liability.
Secondly, without a clear delineation of what the two contracting
parties agree to, in my view leads to confusion of goals, and encourages
troublesome change orders which subvert the whole process. And change
orders push usually push contractual costs higher than the original
The mayor has set up a blue ribbon panel to evaluate why it takes so
long for contracts to go through the process. The auditor's office is
cooperating with the Mayor and Council on trying to solve this thorny
issue. I know we can improve the process.
We'll clear the mush from our brains and start thinking about taxpayer
interests with common sense about the contract issue. Any suggestions
welcome. Please email me with your comments.