Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Peer Reviews

Someone at a neighborhood meeting recently asked who audits the auditor?

Here is the short answer to this excellent question.

Every three years our office go through what we call a "peer review." The Association of Local Government Aditors sent 4 auditors to review our office, how we are doing our audits; how we measure risk for audits to be performed; and compliance with rules and regulations of the Comptroller General. I am pleased to report that the Denver Auditor's Office gave us the highest ratings and noted a significant number of 'best practices' in their report. These auditors were from out of state and from some of the finest audit shops in the country. They were impressed with the Denver Model for Auditing for which our office is being recognized nationally.

I want to thank all our auditors in the Denver Auditor's Office for their outstanding performance in enabling our office to get this rating.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Common Virtues

Auditors normally measure business and financial processes.  But recently, at Regis University’s Evergreen Room, I heard a controversial talk by Dr. Tawfik Hamid, billed in the Highlander, the Regis paper as an Islamic reformer and ex-Jihadist.  After his talk I introduced myself and told him he is a lot like an auditor, he is trying to tell truth to power and the powerful do not want to hear it. Auditors tell truth to the powerful in an organization.  If the powerful are not happy with the message, they are not happy with the auditor.

To an audience of about 125 people, mostly Regis community, neighbors, Hamid related how his first encounters in a mosque in his Egyptian medical school encouraged him to hate, suppress his own conscience and critical thinking.  For a while, Dr. Hamid bought the hard line.  But he confessed to us that in the end, his own conscience would not allow his to follow violent attacks on others.

He went through and alphabetic prescription for reform of Islam which he has been preaching for over 20 years, and admittedly without much success.  He wants all mosques to announce on their websites and on their buildings what he calls his A, B, and C’s of reform.  He wants believers to say “no” to the A, B, and C’s on his list.  A) say “no” to killing of converts from Islam to another religion;  B), say “no” to beating and stoning of women; C),  say ‘no” to calling Jewish people monkeys and pigs. D), say “no” to declaring war on people of other faiths; E), say “no” to enslaving people; F), say “no” to fighting Jewish people; G), saying “no” to hanging people of different sexual preferences.

Dr. Hamid said that if folks won’t say “no” to these A through G, you can bet they are not being accountable to civilized society. Some folks at the end of his talk said we needed more dialogue and they would hold a meeting to talk about the Hamid talk and principles.  I wish him well in his mission.  Others told me his life has been threatened many times because his is trying to hold religious folks accountable and they don’t like the basic truths he espouses in his alphabetic list.  

 And auditors are all about holding people accountable to their actions, financial and organization processes.  

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Asking for the vote

Thomas (Tip) O'Neill, beloved former speaker of the US House, one of my heroes, shared some good advice with candidates who are looking to run for office. I have spoken before about this issue in a previous blog entry. In America,the candidate "has to ask for the vote and the support." It's like going to the Valentine's dance, you have to ask. I don't think any of us like to be taken for granted. Simple political courtesy and etiquette surely still lists "asking for the vote" in the list of things candidates should do to run for office. This is the season for asking for support. At the recent District 4 spaghetti dinner at North High School, a candidate recently asked for support to which I said "Yes." And then she asked if she could use my name on a support list she was publishing. I told her, "Yes." A few with plates of spaghetti passed by nodding approval.

A few times candidates have put names down on support lists, and they had never even asked. To me this is a big mistake in politics. Luckily one of the candidates who once took me for granted and listed me on his list, I really was supporting so the mistake was not that much of an issue. I let it go, but I did give him hell for doing it. I gave him the lecture you are now reading. I marked it down to the innocence, enthusiasm and inexperience of the candidate, the one who put my name on his list without asking. Not asking showed a sort of charming part of his personality, a simple naievete, which actually became a plus in the campaign. He reminded me of Bill Ritter, you know, charming. It smarts when one is trying to stay out of a particular race and then you are listed after saying to both candidates you are staying out. And if you have told one person you intend to stay out and the other candidate puts you down for support, it makes you look like you are playing both sides, And then you feel obliged in fairness to say something good publically about the agrieved candidate, the one who did not put you down as a supporter as promised.
I always really admired Mike Pomponio, the long time North Denver Democratic Captain, for a Denver district inclusive of what is now House District 5. When I was first getting involved, I showed considerable innocence by not dropping by his headquarters to alert him that I was hoping to run for the House. Since he was the captain for the next district over, I did not think it important to alert him of my intentions. I had already discussed my candidacy with Dolores Dickman, our beloved Northwest Corner of Denver captain. And Dolores supported me.

As I look back on it, I made a mistake. I should have told Mr. Pomponio I was running. It would have been the courteous and respectful thing to do. I would be upset with myself if I had shown that lack of civility to myself. And Mike pulled out all the stops to defeat me. He told people I was leading students at Regis in campus riots. But there was not doubt where he stood. He was against you. I remember some folks tell you they will be with you. And you drive by their house and you see your opponent's sign in the yard. And they did not even tell you they had switched sides and hoping you would not drive by the house. If you change sides, you have to tell.

So let us hope this season of asking is blessed with lots of direct and clear lines of communication as to who is supporting candidates or not. Do ask, do tell.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I mentioned in a previous blog that I wrote a copy of Abraham Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby on the loss of her five sons to the Civil War effort. The letter is part of an exhibit on Lincoln at Denver's Blair-Caldwell, African American Library.

At the opening of the exhibit, I saw Mrs. Claudette Francoise Sweet at the exhibit. She told me she was just telling people around her at the exhibit "Lincoln's handwriting sure looks a lot like yours, Dennis."

I then shared with her that I made that copy for the exhibit.

And I hope you will all get over and look at the exhibit. And don't forget my Lincoln/Bixby letter copy which I gave to the library.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Recently our internal auditors have reported to me that they are still getting lots of pushback from city agencies about our access to information on audits.

One agency says we cannot see files because our auditors might release names of clients served by the agency.

Never mind that the city charter, recently changed by the voters to allow us to do performance audits, insists that we follow the rules and regulations of the Comptroller General of the United States in performing our audits. These rules are called "The Yellow Book." The Yellow Book instructs our auditors that we cannot release confidential client or patient information. They do not trust the Denver Auditor's Office and our professional auditors with classified information. I know, and we all know, the Denver Auditor's Office is a nesting ground for future Denver Mayors. This auditor is not running for mayor. I am not out to show the administration, "I gotcha."

Never mind that this same agency has signed a waiver allowing federal auditors to get copies of their classified personal client information. This is perhaps the worst cut of all. This agency simply does not trust our auditors with classified information. But they will allow Federal Auditors to get copies of their classified information.

Never mind that the agency's intransigence is simply a bad business practice blocking our auditors from processes and information which may lack internal controls and leave the city at risk.

We will continue to fight the agencies who try to deny us information essential to our audits. It will take time, but we will make it up the mountain of accountability here in our city. Our internal auditors will lead the way. And I hope we are all in 'amen corner" on this issue. Do I hear an "Amen?"

And interestingly enough, in serving 16 years on the state legislative audit committee, the more an agency performed poorly, the more defensive that mediocre agency got. The same is true here at the city of Denver, unfortunately.

Someone at a neighborhood meeting recently asked "Just what does the auditor of Denver do?"

I answered "I tell truth to power, and much of the time they don't want to hear about it."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Internet Manifesto

Did you know that people now use the Internet to write messages of grief on the departed's face book? The new media are changing everything.

I know a grandmother who calls her grand kids' cell phone and she never gets a call back. As soon as she texts a message, the grand kid texts right back.

We all know how the Internet and other technologies have influenced television, the music business and publishing companies. The Internet has turned every computer user into a publisher, a songster and a movie maker.

Everyone with a cell phone with a camera becomes a journalist taking pictures of accidents; forest fires and lightening strikes.

Just as Gutenberg had no idea what he was doing to society with his printing press, the new media are certainly foggy about what they are doing to our society and our culture. An interesting book by Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, tried to put it all into perspective as society moved from monastic calligraphy for texts to mass printing of texts. In Gutenberg's time, the process moved somewhat slower than today's speedy media, and that makes it harder to pinpoint what is exactly happening to us.

One web site which tries to help journalists through the thickets of confusion surrounding the Internet is This site lists 17 declarations which the framers have reasoned are important to all users of the Internet.

Point 1 declares that "The Internet is different." They ask media to adapt their work methods to today's technological reality.

Point 4 states that "The freedom of the Internet is inviolable." Blocking the Internet "endangers the free flow of information and corrupts our fundamental fight to a self-determined level of information."

Point 9 reminds us that "The Internet is the new venue for political discourse." And our print media are finding this out first hand.

Point 13 says "copyright becomes a civic duty on the Internet." Owner ship entail obligation, to goes on to say.

I hope you will check the Internet Manifesto. Do you agree with the points trying to clarify the new media journalism? There is a comment section, write down what you think about the manifesto. I was puzzled not to see a point on the digital divide which continues to separate those who have access to the new media and those who do not.

So take out your pocket sized media empire and let folks know what you think about all this.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Outwitting history

I have just finished reading a most interesting book, Outwitting History, by Aaron Lansky. The book tells the story of the author and his adventures to rescue Yiddish language books. He now surrounds himself with over one and a half million Yiddish books at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.

A friend gave me this book for Christmas because she hears me tell the story over and over about a librarian we had at Regis University here in Denver who decided one day to throw out all books which had not been taken out in 20 years. Mishoogenah. Shelf space, the library needed more shelf space, already. Does this story sound like the opening of a story by Isaac Beshevis Singer?

I dumpster dove in between my classes and students would often help me cart books down to my office at the far eastern end of Loyola Hall. The librarian would laugh and point at me from his perch on the second floor of the library, laughing at my feeble attempts to save the texts. I had so many books piled in my office that the facilities manager for the building said I did not need insulation in my cold room the windows of which often froze on the inside in winter’s bitter chill. Outside my office window I could see a small hare which lept trembling through the frozen grass.

Among the items I rescued were copies of Latin and Greek classics; early French editions of Jesuit theological texts; lots of Spanish books; and many others which I can’t list here as I don’t want to make this blog too long. One day I passed the library and saw about 200 feet of books lined up like good soldiers in front of the library. What books are those I inquired of a librarian? Those are the chronicles of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, at least 150 books. I called libraries, colleges, history professors and many others looking for a home for these important items. These history texts would now fit in with Dr. Dan Clayton’s, Second World War research and history projects. No one wanted the books, so the high school students, on campus at that time, came over removed all the covers and the high school tossed the shivering texts denuded of their bindings into a big truck and took the books to Friedman Paper Company downtown for recycling.

Fr. Jim Guyer, S. J., Regis history Professor, told me he rescued two tomes which were printed by Jesuits in Japan in the 18th century. He shows them to his Asian History classes regularly. I still have quite a few of these reprieved books snatched from the dumpster at Regis. I believe we have a librarian now who likes books and will not throw them out.

I remember Vartan Gregorian, former head of the New York Public Library, telling a conference of librarians in Denver that when he became head of the NY Public Library that librarians came to him one day saying they needed more shelf space. There they go again, I thought. They suggested throwing out all the old telephone books from Eastern Europe which graced shelves. He saved them from the dumpster thinking someday they may be needed. “Un ver vet ibermishn gele bleter. And who will turn these yellowed pages?” Today, these old phone books are viewed by people whose relatives and the lives and memories of them were erased forever in the holocaust of WWII, that’s who. The old phone books show the street on which their families lived in Europe.

Some people think I am a bit eccentric to check the dumpsters near our Denver Public Libraries. I still check the dumpsters at Regis too. The Regis librarian moved on to another college. You too can check library dumpsters and let me know what you find. I wonder if we could call that auditing the books or simply outwitting history right here in Denver.

So it’s a great story that Lansky’s tells in his book about saving books and a language everyone thought would perish. It’s “geshmak, delectable” as the cover says. Yiddish is experience a bit of a renaissance. The University of Denver offers several classes in Yiddish. Let me know what you think about Outwitting History.

Final thought: One day our Dean, Bill Hynes happened to be in my office. He saw all the books lining my floors and walls. He did not see me behind all the books on my desk. He said, and I think fondly, “That Dennis Gallagher, he thinks every book is a moral obligation.” And I do. And more than that, I add a line from the book: “Di bikher zenen geven lebedike nefoshes. The books were living souls.”