Monday, September 28, 2009

The Decline of Handwriting

I am very proud of my beloved son, Daniel Patrick Gallagher. But there has always been one source of contention between us....his handwriting. Chicken scratching in a field on the eastern plains of Colorado seems more legible. I have always felt Daniel Patrick's almost letter less signature quickly scrawled across the page has been some sort of rebellion on his part toward his father who still uses a broad point fountain pen, and occasionally a goose quill (but only for contracts at the city about which I feel goosey). I tried my best to encourage him to take up calligraphy. I wish he could have met Sister John Joseph, Sister of Loretto who taught me cursive at Holy Family Grade School here in North Denver. And I say mea culpa, I admit my fatherly failure to encourage him to legible writing.

Consider this short dialogue from our conversation about his filling out his ballot in the last election:

"Daniel, be sure to sign your name neatly so the folks at the Denver Clerk's Office can read it," I suggested.

"Dad, if I write neatly they will think it's not me writing. The Clerk's Office will think someone else signed my ballot," he responded with clarity and logic.

"Sign your ballot, my son, the way you always sign, so there is no doubt it's yours," resigned to his logic I capitulated with a wave of my right hand, my writing hand.

I am distressed to read that many school districts around the country have abandoned classes on handwriting. School districts seem to be shouting, "A curse on cursive!" I don't have room in this short essay on why I think this is such a bad idea, but we will discuss this in another communication.

Poorly written signatures have affected the election process. It begs proper internal controls. Folks signing petitions in our country now have to print their names next to their signatures of letter less scrawls. Election workers have considerable trouble verifying signatures as they audit the sloppy shaky scratches. The words John Hancock, the distinctive signature on our nation's Declaration of Independence, were written distinctively enough, according to John, so King George III would "not have to put on his bifocals to read it." His name still equates to a neatly written signature writ large enough for all to read.

Final word of argument from my son, Daniel Patrick:

"Dad, why do I need a signature? I have my computer and soon we will all have electronic signatures which will do away with hand written signatures all together."

And Daniel Patrick speaks the truth, a prophet in his own digital time. The troublesome contract process at the city of Denver could be sped up considerably and still retain internal controls with a verifiable and secure electronic signature process. Sister, bring on the ruler!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Constitution Day

September 17, 2009 is the 222nd anniversary of the day our Constitution’s framers signed the 4,400 words making up this document. The framers took 100 days to give form to the final version of the Constitution. Some say it is the oldest and shortest constitution of any major government in our world. Jefferson did not sign because he was serving as US Minister in France. John Adams did not sign as he was US Minister in Great Britain.

Jacob Shallus, a clerical worker for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, carefully wrote the four pages on calfskin parchments. However, Jacob misspelled “Pensylvania” above where delegates signed and despite his mistake; he got paid $30.00 for his calligraphic efforts. We all cherish his magnificent “We the People” thick and back- slanting Gothic style letters which have become a logo for the Constitution over these many years.

42 delegates attended the Convention, but only 39 signed. Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts did not sign because the constitution did not contain a Bill of Rights. Ben Franklin was the oldest to sign aged 81and did so with tears in his eyes, and Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey only 26 was the youngest to pen his name to the parchment. Franklin had gout during the convention and 4 prisoners from Philadelphia’s Walnut Street jail carried him to the assembly on a sedan chair. Two signers became president: George Washington and James Madison. Madison kept a journal of his memories of the convention and eventually was published in 1840.

After the Assembly adjourned, the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia asked Franklin what kind of government did we have? Franklin’s famous answer echoes through the 222 years to us today, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

And hopefully we will keep it. To celebrate Constitution Day, get a pocket copy of the US Constitution from Liberty Day, 303-333-3434. Or you can drop by the Auditor’s Office, 201 West Colfax Avenue, 705 Denver, Colorado 80202 and pick up your own copy. Read it and sign it yourself.

Check with ConstitutionFacts.com where I got much of this information.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Civility

The center-page headline in USA Today, September 15: “What happened to civility?”

Today’s story recounts a House Member shouting “You lie.” He acted like a rude back-bencher in the British Parliament to President Obama during his recent speech on health care. The story then tells about a tennis player threatening bodily harm to a tennis official because she disagreed with a call. Then some rapper jumps on stage and grabs the microphone away from another artist who had won an award demanding that the award go to someone else. I can tell you what has happened to civility. These boorish people lack what we in auditing call “internal control.”

They have shut out that inner voice which warns us quietly not to do certain actions, threaten other actions and say vicious threats. They have tuned out the acoustic trigger which raises the volume for internal control. And our culture encourages this incivility because we tolerate it.

The congressman may face censure and a fine. The congressman apologized to the White House for his boorish behavior, but no real consequences here. The tennis player already had to pay $10,500 penalty but then won a championship after a mushy apology. No suspension or consequences, only further praise for the won championship. The rapper appears to be in continuous apology mode even shedding tears on Jay Leno feeling guilt for his juvenile actions. He said he was just “being real.” No real consequences here either. The more he cries the more his fans adore him.

In my view these boorish people will continue to behave inappropriately because they think they are special; they are above everyone; and they have balloon tight inflated egos. They feel they are very important and above civility. What has caused them to go deaf to their internal control mechanism? They are angry that they did not get enough attention from their parents when they were younger. All three knew they were going to be the center of attention in the news, TV, radio, Internet, blogs, twitter and all the rest. With no consequences for their ill-mannered actions they will strive further into greater boorish behavior.

The story in USA Today ends with a quote with which I heartily agree: “So, no it’s not OK to say, ‘That’s just the way society is today’ and leave it at that.”

And I say society does not have to be like that. And Charity Tillemann-Dick, a young constituent from North Denver, feels the same. Several years back, while a student at Regis University Charity got the Colorado House and Senate to pass a resolution to Congress asking that everyone work for civility in our country in our dealings with others. With Charity let us continue to march up the mountain of accountability and civility in our lives, our politics and our nation.

Society does not have to be like that. Boorish and inappropriate behavior should have consequences.

Along with Charity Tillemann-Dick of North Denver, we all have to work to listen to the inner voice that nudges us to self-control and internal control. We have to encourage our friends and families be civil to each other. Let us start there. This will not be an easy battle to change the culture. But we can do it. I know we can.

It’s a pity we don’t have nuns around anymore in long black habits with 3 foot long rulers encouraging us to be civil.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Denver's Grand Union Station

Denver’s Grand Old Union Station, glowering these days at the 17th and Wynkoop in lower downtown, means an awful lot to the Gallagher family.

My grandfather, Bill Gallagher, worked for over 40 years as an engineer on the Rio Grande railroad. Our family bought a commemorative brick in front of Union Station remembering my grandfather’s many years of hard work and service to the Rio Grande.  He started out working on the old Moffat Road, which chugged from the track swerve of Denver and the Platte River, past Winter Park over the thin-aired Carona Pass, and ending in a recirculation on to the environs of the western slope.  

When he took the test for engineer for the Moffat he got 100% on the test.  The test-givers at the railroad thought he must have cheated - No one ever gets 100%.  So they made Gallagher take the test again.  Gallagher got another 100% grade and was hired. But whenever he told me this story he would always lecture me about how the Irish have to work twice as hard as the Anglo-Saxons to get hired, to get ahead, to be fully integrated into “this beautiful land.”  “For them to accept us, Dennis,  we must study twice as hard, work twice as hard and fight twice as hard to hold our own,” he would say puffing on his pipe like a steam engine.  His blue eyes flashed with a little bit of anger accompanied with a smile of confidence on what he had accomplished after coming to America. Ah, indeed, we are all proud of him.

The Rio Grande came into Union Station and I fondly remember going down to Union Station with my dad to meet my grandfather after one of his many trips by rail.  I remember meeting my uncles at Union Station when the all came back from World War II.  The place was filled with soldiers and sailors.  I remember taking the train to graduate school, to visit relatives in Chicago, and many times to Winter Park. I fondly remember my beloved daughter Meaghan Kathleen flipping the switch to ignite the red neon “Travel by Train,” celebrating a long postponed restoration.  The Gallagher's loved, and still love traveling by train, and because of our grandfather, Denver’s Union Station is in our blood and bones.  And to borrow from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake “welt the floor of the engine cab and be sure to watch your trutter shake.”

When I served in the Senate a few years back, the city administration wanted to move Union Station and AMTRAK out of lower downtown to a site near the animal rendering plant in Adams County. The station was to be turned into a large boutique center as I recall.  Imagine the odoriferous whiff of incommodious viscera of dead carcasses the visitors could sniff as they got on buses to be herded downtown upon arrival to our environs.  So we formed a group, Tom Noel included, called, SOTS, Save Our Train Station.  We met at a brewpub of one of the organizers, John Hickenlooper. We drank lots of Rail yard Ale to protect the station, even after the threat passed. We changed the name to SOS, Save Our Station, for better branding purposes.  The city wisely abandoned the idea as the businesses in lower downtown liked the many thousands of visitors from Europe and America who spent a day in our city when riding the train across the country to our Union Station.

So now our Union Station faces new challenges in its long history. So far all the talk has been about the large developments around and in front of Union Station. Not a word is heard about what should draw people into Union Station. So far it’s all about tax increment financing, how high the buildings will be, and where the buses go. And unfortunately two new buildings on either side of the fa├žade of the station will block the Wynkoop view.  Thank goodness the marvelous model train layout in the station’s basement, a treasure to generations Denver’s children, is being saved.

 With all this talk about development around Union Station, Liz Orr and Vicky Godbey, with help from Dana Crawford, have formed a grassroots citizen participation organization, USA, to help figure out what should be done with the interior of the station. They also want to encourage citizen input on what the small Wynkoop Plaza in front of the station should look like. Joyfully Dana Crawford and others are planning to resurrect the Station’s Welcome Arch. Their goals are “to generate citizen leadership in ‘revitalizing a great civic landmark.”  So if you want to join Liz and Vicky in trying to figure all this out, you can join Union Station Advocates, 1700 Bassett Street, Suite # 1901, Denver, Colorado 80202.  $50 gets you a membership and they have applied for the 501(c) 3. 

And you can check on line www.unionstationadvocates.org/membership, for more information about their big party at the Station on Thursday evening, October 15th, 2009. Tickets start at $40. Tell your friends and fellow travelers. Mitzpah!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Luca Pacioli????

Did he play for the Yankees?  Did he establish a winery in California?  Was he elected President of Italy?

No.

 Fray Luca Bartolomes Pacioli, a Franciscan Monk, born in the mid-1400’s in Tuscany in Italy should be the patron saint of accounting and auditing.  All auditors and accountants should know his name.  He is reputed to be the inventor of double entry accounting on a single page, “to give the trader without delay information as to his assets and liabilities.”  He wrote that debit amounts should be listed on the left side of the page and credits listed on the right side. Did Pacioli place debits on the left because the Latin word for “left” is “sinister?”  And the Latin word for “right’ is “dexter,” giving us dexterous in English, the more graceful and beautiful.  Credits are beautiful and a joy to behold on the page.   The fray wrote that if the two totals are equal, the ledger was considered balanced. ‘If not,” says Pacioli,”that would indicate a mistake in your ledger, which mistake you will have to look for diligently with the industry and intelligence God gave you.”  Translated from the Latin by J. B. Geijsbeek, in “Ancient Double Entry Bookeeping,” 1914.  

 I remember Matt Daly, accounting professor at Regis University, telling me his rule “Debits on the left, Credits on the right, or Debits by the window and Credits by the door.” That is unless the desks face the other direction.

Let me know if you would like a copy of Frater Pacioli’s original Latin instructions on all this. Do you think the Jesuits are upset that history gives the Franciscan the credit for this financial and economic innovation?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stimulus Funds

The AGA (Association of Government Accountants) recently estimated that
60 billion dollars would be lost to waste and fraud as the federal
government sends the stimulus package monies to the nation's cities,
counties and states. Has that got your attention.  It certainly got
mine.

That recent estimation of fraud and waste prompted Kip Memmott, our
Director of Internal Audit in the Denver Auditor's Office, to warn at a
recent audit  committee meeting,  that in an economic downturn,
auditors play an even more important role in the financial affairs.

Some jurisdictions have even tried to do away with auditors all
together. This year the Nebraska legislature considered a bill to do
away with the office of Auditor for Douglas County, mostly Omaha.  I
wrote a letter to the Nebraska legislators informing them that we may
not always like what the auditor has to report, but the facts have to
be reported. I am pleased to report that the legislators listened to me
and defeated the bill doing away with an office of accountability. Tom
Cavanaugh of Omaha is still the elected auditor.  Tom's two brothers,
Tom and John, graduated from Regis University some years back.

And you may have read that the Jefferson County Commissioners voted to
cut funding for their auditor. Not a prudent way to save money. If I
were a federal auditor I would be wary of any stimulus monies going
to a governmental entity with no auditor.

And you may have read that I traveled to Washington to encourage our
Federal legislators to include some money for local auditors to make
sure there is no waste and fraud in the stimulus grants.  I reminded
Senator Mark Udall that Colorado was selected as one of 16 states for
special review of all the stimulus monies coming to our state.  
Hopefully the federal government has heard how well we audit the monies
they send us.

I want you to know that we will do all we can to monitor stimulus
monies coming to Denver. I told the Mayor recently,  "We do not want
any fraud or waste on our watch."  And Denver taxpayers don't want any
either.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We Can Do Better

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
examples.

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
bids.

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.