Friday, October 30, 2009

A Celtic Halloween

November 1 is the Celtic feast of Samhain. Samhain, Gaelic for "summer's end," was the most important of the ancient Celtic feasts.
The Celts honored the opposing balance of intertwining forces of existence: darkness and light, night and day, cold and heat, death and life. The Celtic year was divided into two seasons: the light and the dark, celebrating the light at Beltane on May 1st and the dark at Samhain on November 1st. Therefore, the Feast of Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, since it marked the beginning of a new dark-light cycle. The Celts observed time as proceeding from darkness to light because they understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Therefore, the Celtic year began with the season of An Geamhradh, the dark Celtic winter, and ended with Am Foghar, the Celtic harvest. The Celtic day began at dusk, the beginning of the dark and cold night, and ended the following dusk, the end of a day of light and warmth. Since dusk is the beginning of the Celtic day, Samhain begins at dusk on October 31. Samhain marks the beginning of An Geamhradh as well as the New Year.

Chant for Samhain
A year of beauty. A year of plenty. A year of planting. A year of harvest.
A year of forests. A year of healing. A year of vision. A year of passion.
A year of rebirth. A year of rebirth. This year may we renew the earth.
Let it begin with each step we take. Let it begin with each change we make.
Let it begin with each chain we break. And let it begin every time we awake.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

2010 Audit Plan

I hope everyone will check the Auditor's 2010 Audit Plan posted on the Auditor's website.

Charter language approved by voters in 2007 requires the Auditor to come up with an annual audit plan, a collaborative audit plan, a collegial audit plan. The charter requires the Auditor to consult with the mayor and council on issues which need to be audited in Denver. This language arose from the city's tradition that ambitious auditors in Denver find in the auditor's office a fertile nesting ground for future mayoral plans.

Kip Memmott Director of Internal Audit in the Denver Auditor's Office and I have broadly interpreted the charter language to be more inclusive than just found in the written words: we annually meet with department heads as well. For two years now, we have shared the outline of our annual audit plans with department heads and staffs in their offices and have asked if they have any input for the plan. We have received many excellent suggestions for audits from these meetings. I think you will appreciate the emphasis on public safety and internal financial controls highlighted in the 2010 plan. Taxpayers will appreciate the detailed calculations of how many hours our auditors have allocated per audit on various issues and departments. And we have set aside enough hours of audit time to allow for emergencies which may arise in the city in need of attention. In my view visiting with department heads continues to help build trust at the city in that many agency heads feel negative about any audit pending around their departments.

These insightful revelations in the 2010 Audit Plan reflect a new sense of accountability and transparency which our recent peer review appreciated in their recent analysis of our office operations. So let me know what you think of the 2010 Plan and share your thoughts as to what should be audited in Denver. Mike Licht, former Denver Auditor who ran for mayor, had a great motto in his campaign: "Everyone is an Auditor." When asked what that meant Mike said "If you pay your parking bill at the airport and you don't get a receipt, report it to the auditor's office." Not getting a receipt for money paid at any city agency shows a lack of proper internal controls and can lead to possible fraud.

And Mike is right, and every one can offer suggestions to the audit plan.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The medium is often the message - but not always

As you may know the Denver Auditor's Office enforces Denver’s Prevailing Wage Law on all city construction projects. Rob Merritt heads up that unit which rigorously checks payrolls of companies working on city projects. Staff members have informed me that many companies have perfect payrolls, no mistakes, no shorting employees, no fraud or administrative laziness in paying workers what the law requires.

A couple of years ago, I initiated the Auditor's Appreciation Awards to such companies. This auditor believes you have to give credit where credit is due. So I sent a letter to the executive of one construction-company which had perfect payrolls at our Denver Airport. My letter invited the executive to our quarterly meeting at which the award was to be given to him and his company.
However, when he saw the return address from the Denver Auditor's Office, he put my congratulatory letter in his desk, unopened. Seeing the return address on our Auditor's envelope, he had convinced himself that he must have done something wrong on a payroll or owed the city money. This reaction shows the truth of the prophetic words of Marshall McLuhan who said so many years ago, that "the medium is the message." When he finally opened the letter, he had already missed the meeting at which we planned to give him the award for good work. So now I send these award notices in a plain white envelope made from recycled paper, of course.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The End to Pushback on Audits?

Auditors across the country have shared with me that they get pushback from agencies being audited. They get arguments full of fallacies. We get our fair share too. Let me identify a few of the fallacies for you.

We could help end the city deficit if we had a dollar for every time a city agency has said to us, "The auditor has no authority to look at that information." I call that argument from formal logic, an "ad vericundiam fallacy." That fallacy refers to arguments that ask for acceptance based not on sound fact, but appeals to some higher authority or tradition. The agency tells us, "We have always done things this way.” Like Rebtavia in "Fiddler on the Roof," the agencies shout back "Tradition." We simply respond, as did the city attorney, "Read the charter, the auditor has the authority."

One agency, responding for a request of staff work records simply dumped thousands of papers off at the auditor's office with no delineation as to which information covered the requested material. We felt like archeologists sifting through tons of historical residue to find out the truth about employment patterns. I call that the fallacy of confusion and chaos. This diversion process tries to overwhelm the audit staff.

Several agencies have complained that working with the auditor's office is not timely, "We are so busy running our agency, we can't take time to have staff get all the information you request for an audit." I call this one "the no good time fallacy," not a formal definition in classical logic, but which certainly applies to the city. With some agencies there will never be a "good" time for the auditor's office to look at agency records or speak to agency staff. "Just go away, we don't want to be bothered, no one has ever complained before," they tell our office. Like the prayer for the Tsar in "Fiddler," "Lord, may the far away from us."

One agency head actually told our audit staff he did not see much value to performance audits. Agencies have hired expensive consultants to anticipate arguments and problems we might find in their agency. The agencies try to diminish what our office finds not working well in a department. We had another department who tried to distract us away from the real scope of the audit. We simply include the information as part of the audit.

And Denver Health, in response to our audit of Emergency Response Times, kept saying to us, "Look what a wonderful emergency room we have, the best in the nation." We told them, "we agree with you, you have a great emergency room, we are simply trying to measure how long it take for you to get injured people to it." I call that close to the fallacy of composition. Our department is composed of many areas, "so if our emergency room is so wonderful, how can any other part of our system be in need of improvement."

Agencies use ad hominem augments in response to audit findings, arguments of personal attack. "Oh, that damn Gallagher is doing this for political purposes. He must be running for mayor."

But, there is hope, I hope.

David Fine Esq., City Attorney, hand-delivered to me, an unsolicited memo which he had written and shared with Mayoral Appointees after a meeting with them on October 9th. The memo is on our website for all to see, including agency staff and heads. He reminds them of our access to records and, indirectly to staff, during our audits.

In the final paragraph, the city attorney reminded the mayor's appointees, "Please be advised that it is illegal to take adverse employment actions against employees from your department based upon their participation in these performance audits." Our audits will only bring improvement if city employees feel free to communicate to us without retaliation for their comments on department situations during a departmental audit. For this auditor any other retaliatory or bullying cultural context is intolerable and unacceptable.

Fine could not have put in any clearer. I congratulate him on a thoughtful and appropriate memo. I hope the agency appointees take it to heart. If they don't, be assured Auditor Gallagher will with vigor call them on it every time.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Last week I heard Professor Ved Nanda talk to the Denver City Club at the Brown Palace Hotel. The City Club meets every Tuesday to listen to some of Denver's finest minds on all sorts of issues. Readers ought to check it out. Guests are welcome, but folks are encouraged to join.

Professor Nanda spoke on the options facing the United States on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Law Professor Nanda even offered a one page outline on the issues he so logically presented to us. I wish he had offered a quiz on his lecture.

During the question period, I asked Professor Nanda what he thought of the recent slight by the White House which told the Dalai Lama that the White House would not welcome him until President Obama made his trip to China? The White House advisors had said the timing was not right. The visit by the Dalai Lama to the White House would upset China. I had read news reports mentioning that The White House indicated that they were not seeking China's permission to meet with the Dalai Lama. But it sure looked like that to me. Will China call our our loans due? Doubtful.

Professor Nanda thought the Obama White House just made a big blunder. I reminded him that the President's fellow Nobel Prize winner would not hold a grudge and the Dalai Lama had probably already forgiven him for this slight.

Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, summed the White House rebuff of the Dalai Lama quoted in The New York Times as "only a minor compromise. But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems."
Fall is my favority time of year. With Shakespeare, I love seeing the yellow leaves shake against the cold of bare ruined choirs. With the cold of winter coming upon us, recently I have been craving motzah ball soup. My sinuses call out for good motzah ball soup.

So I went to my three favorite places where I know I can get top-grade, soul-warming, bone-soothing, motzoh ball soup: East Side Kosher Deli, 499 S. Elm Street, in Glendale; Zaidy's at 121 Adams in Cherry Creek; and New York Deli News at 7105 East Hampden in Southeast Denver. An auditor should be able to measure the quality and size of things, so in this brief commentary, I will measure the size of the motzoh balls in the motzoh ball soups in those wonderful establishements.

The Schribers at East Side Kosher Deli, who provide genuine kosher meals for Denver's prisons, mix up a great soup with lots of chicken in the broth. Their balls compare in size to snooker balls and are tender to the taste. When slepping, I mean, slurping their delicious soup, I alway proudly order "two balls please."

Zaidy's boasts balls about the size of tennis balls accompanied by a generous portion of chunks of chicken and piping hot broth. One ball is enough. Rumor has it the Rudofsky's use less oil and more water in their good sized motzah balls. Working for the city, I always order chopped liver with the soup, because lots of us who work at the city can identify with chopped liver.

But New York Deli News wins the prize for size. And who says size does not count, especially when it comes to motzoh balls. The Belsky's bring you a bowl of soup crowned with a very large knaydalach, Yiddish for dumpling, a motzoh ball the size of a large soft ball. You need only order one. I wondered if the ball would be cooked all the way through, because when I try to make motzoh ball soup, the inside never seems to cook thoroughly and they always fall apart into a mush. Belsky's chef cooks the balls all the way through and they are very springy. Senator Joyce Foster told me I was smushing my matzoh balls too tightly, and that I should use seltzer water not plane tap water. Another rabbi friend told me to mix the eggs more into a froth, that might help. I told Mr. Belsky, this New York deli does not have a real New York atmosphere, the waiters treat you much too nice. "You've had enough smaltz, you big slemiel, get your tochis out of here. We have another customer waiting." Belsky commented without a beat. Belsky is no schmendrick, that's for sure.

So as the Welcome Arch in front of Union State used to say: Mitzpah." And if we will ever see it again with all the buildings stuffed in front, "Mitzvah," Hebrew for "May the Lord look after our coming and our going, until we meet again." Or at least may we be blessed with health and good sinuses until we try our next delicious bowl of matzoh ball soup.


When I served in our Colorado Legislature, legislators measured support or opposition to a measure by how many letters or postcards they received on a particular measure. Smart citizen lobbyists send individual letters of one or two pages in length with well-reasoned arguments addressing that citizen's concern about a measure. If legislators received all-the-same xeroxed copy of one letter, that was considered less effective by legislators. That was like the letters Sister used to write letters for us on the board at the parochial school: "Dear Senator, support funding for school buses for private schools....." The letters were all the same even though they were handwritten, and looked personal enough. But they too were counted as one letter from one source. Using the same stamps on the same size envelopes let the legislators know that everybody got in a room somewhere and wrote their letters. Thank you, Sister.

Smart lobbyists asked citizens to bring their own stationary and their own commemorative stamps, not just those found on large rolls from the post office. They let the legislators know someone cared enough to write an individual letter on a particular issue.

Postcards followed the same rules. Use different stamps and messages, though there are not as many postcard stamps available at the US postal service. But handwritten post cards, in my view, equalled two or three repetitive printed letters. A steady stream of postcards and letters increasing each day of a particular campaign, I considered effective and let me know how folks felt about a measure pending at the assembly. Letters and cards from the district you represented meant the most.

Legislators considered telegrams equal to five or six letters. Remember Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message." That someone took the time and money to send a telegram conveyed the message that the citizen really meant business. The NRA asked members to allow the organization to use the member's name on telegrams which they sent to the legislators on a measure. I asked a neighbor whose name was on a telegram on a bill, "Why didn't you just come over and talk to me about the bill?" He said he gave the NRA permission to use his name on the telegram which he admitted he did not see, but which he trusted would correspond to his desires and wishes on the gun legislation.

Telephone calls were important, especially if the citizen left his or her feelings for or against a bill. Telephone calls focusing on amendments added to a bill helped get the legislators the feeling of citizens on that amendment.

The same principles apply to digital lobbying. Canned emails all saying the same words mean not much to legislators and council members looking for opinions on particular issues. The more individualized the email message the better as it gives the legislator the impression you are not in a room full of computers sending the same message. So good luck in the new world of digital lobbying. At least now with the computer, sloppy handwriting is not an issue. Sister would not approve of that. Bring on the dreaded rulers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tip O'Neill

I recently had coffee with two candidates who have thrown their hats into the hurly burly of Denver politics. They have taken the risk, they are ready to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which will be thrown at them during the campaign.

They asked me about campaign techniques which work. Dan Pabon is running for State House of Representatives, District 4, North Denver. Christopher Scott is seeking the Denver School Board at-Large seat. At-large means he runs city wide for the seat which represents all citizens of Denver across the city. We will vote on School Board races on this year's November ballott, not far off. Dan will be up for the legislative races in next year's state house races. I told both of them the following most enlightening story about Tip O'Neill.

Tip O'Neill ran and won the Congressional seat vacated by John Kennedy when he won the Massachusetts Senate Seat. The Wednesday morning after his victory, O'Neill told people he saw Miss Flynn, I believe her name was, who lived across the street from him. He asked her what she thought of him winning the seat for congress. Miss Flynn did not even look up from he trimming her rose bushes.

"Ah, Tip, I did not vote for you," she volunteered to an astonished O'Neill who had know Miss Flynn for many years. She was his first grade teacher.

"Miss Flynn, why didn't you vote for me, you've known me all my life, you taught me in the first grade," crestfallen Tip responded defensively.

"Ah, Tip, I thought I taught you better. Tip, you have to ask for the vote. You can't take people for granted no matter how long you have know them. It's a sign of respect," she admonished the newly elected congressman. "Tip, you have to ask for the vote."

And humbled by Miss Flynn's reminder, Tip O'Neill ever thereafter asked everyone he knew for the vote, no matter how long he had known them. And Miss Flynn was right, people want to be asked for the vote.

I checked up on these candidates recently, and I am pleased to report Chris and Dan are out asking people for the vote. I hope other candidates will follow their good examples. And damn the slings and arrows

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bed bugs or book bugs?

Gail Lindley, owner of Denver Bookbinding, has printed a provocative and yet thoughtful bookmark which she hands out at book fairs to advertise her company: "Practice Safe Sex, Take a Good Book to Bed with You." This innocent bookmark takes on a horrifyingly Halloween meaning in light of recent library stories in our city. If you drop by her wonderful factory on West 31st and Wyandotte, just east of Tejon, she will happily give you one.

Now I suppose many of you read about this issue in The Denver Post. I hope other biblioholics are as angry and as deeply offended by a hitherto unknown warfare gnawing against the very fabric of our civilization, culture and learning, not forgetting the books involved. Reading on at this point may make one's very flesh crawl. And I suspect when the Olympic Committee which might receive Denver's application for the games soon will be incredulous and furious when they find out. What kind of a city is Denver, anyway? Let's review the case.

There is a Denver Public Central Library Patron who goes above and beyond Ms. Lindley's humorous suggestion about taking books to bed. He actually brought borrowed books to his home which was infested with lots of the species, Cimex lectularius, that's Latin for 'bug and bed.' He shared his bedbug infestation with the city's books and when the books got back to the library, the contagion spread, the wingless cimices lectularii drilled into other texts. The bedbugs even found nesting grounds in the fertile bindings of lots of other books, mostly old and juicy leatherbound tomes.

Are you angry yet? Do you share the pain?

Costs to the library to reclaim damaged books has soared to many thousands of dollars at a time when the city council and mayor are proposing the closing of two libraries in our city. A library official said the person's burrowing, I mean, borrowing priveleges at DPL have been revoked mainly due to health concerns for other patrons. But rumors are crawling at the library that a silk stocking law firm is itching to take on the case. The city attorney's office hopes there will be lots of wiggle room in this case which may have legs.

What punishments should there be for these reckless and incidiously creepy acts of infestation to others? What acts of restitution would fit these gruesome crimes? Sister Mildred Clare, librarian of my high school in North Denver, made students returning books late to her library scrape tossed gum off the sidewalks around the playground and school? What do you think the penalty should be for these acts of urban microbiotic terrorism?

Are you as bugged as I am that we had to read about this in our Denver Post? Surely a citywide email to city employees to spread the word on this health hazard might have been waiting in the wings.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Auditor Humor?

Auditor's need a good sense of humor.  Auditors cannot take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune sent their way.
An illustration in point. And every joke has a grievance.
Some time ago, St. John's Cathedral hosted a prayer service for Mayor Hickenlooper to help him to a successful term as Mayor.  Incense bellowed from the incensor gliding slowly to the heavens like prayers for the newly elected mayor.  The choir wafted mellifluent stentorian tones knocking on the very gates of heaven.
A friend of mine invited me to the service.  I sat a few seats behind the mayor.  The Dean of the Cathedral, Reverend Peter Eaton approached the Mayor and congratulated him on the prayers being offered for him.  He saw me behind him in the corner of his eye.  Laughingly he asked the Dean, "Is there a prayer for the Auditor, Father," the mayor quipped.  He does have a good sense of humor though sometime seared with sarcasm.
Without a beat, the Dean answered that there was a prayer for the auditor. The Dean took a deep breath and intoned a mock  line of Gregorian chant singing, "Lord, may the auditor, be"....a long pause here..the tension built as those nearby listened for the punch line. "....far away from us."  Waves of irreverent laughter echoed off the ancient stones of the Cathedral walls.
I felt like I was in a re-run of Fiddler on the Roof,  but I took the place of the tzar.
Is an auditor not a human being? Does an auditor not have feelings?  Do auditor's not bleed when cut?
Yes, answers all three questions.  But auditor's have to develop a thick skin and remember that the auditor's role is to tell truth to power even if they do not want to hear.  The auditor has to follow the ancient Roman admonition:  "Fiat justicia et caeli ruant. Let justice be done, thought the heaven's fall."  This auditor takes the auditor's role very seriously.  And I know the work of our outstanding staff in the auditor's office brings value to city functions and processes.  And we try to do it all with civility and a smile.