Friday, April 30, 2010

“Debt is the slavery of the free.”

Publius Syrus declared, “Debt is the slavery of the free.”

Earlier I mentioned the ancient Athenian Ephebic Oath which every 18-year old had to swear in front of the assembly in order to become Athenian citizens. In that oath, young men, swore: “My native land I will not leave a diminished heritage but greater and better that when I received it.” Modern Greek and American political leaders should consider taking this oath. It was a civil and a military oath to defend the “altars and hearths, single-handed or supported by many.”

As Greek political leaders wrestle with the catastrophic economic mistakes of their recent past, and as American political leaders struggle with the our burgeoning deadening debt, we hope that our leaders will take the words of the Athenian Oath to heart and make the tough choices to leave our nation in better economic shape than we found it.

“To preserve their independence, we must not let our rules load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.” Tom Jefferson.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Audit Trends

Kip Memmott, our director of Internal Audit here at the Denver Auditor’s Office, proves the truth of what Will Rogers opined so many years ago: “Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Kip recently attended the Institute of Internal Auditor’s General Audit Management conference. Kip has never been one to just sit there.

Kip reported back to us that national trends show that auditors are now expected to perform more work in areas of enterprise risk management, effective governance, resource maximization and strategic planning. Speakers reported that audit work is less counting widgets and ensuring compliance. I wonder whatever happened to my green eyeshade.

Auditors now must understand the business side of operations to be truly effective and add value to audits. I am pleased to tell you that these are true of the performance audits we do in Denver.

Kip shared that internal audit functions are ideally positioned to lead organization culture change Chief Audit Executives should proactively raise organizational expectations for the internal audit function and then deliver. I often say, I am interested in bringing long term systemic change to the city of Denver, not just a series of audits which contain ‘gotchas.’

There is a movement nationally toward integrated auditing where auditors are expected to have financial, performance and IT audit skills. The Denver Auditor’s office has a whole team of auditors who are expert at auditing and analyzing IT needs. The value of that team is demonstrable to all who have contact with our IT auditors.

Effective audit risk assessment and root cause analysis practices are critical for adding value. And the more our auditors here in the Denver Auditor’s Office do their excellent performance audits the more city agencies, the city council and even reluctant administrators see value in those audits.

Audit functions trends show that those functions should automate internal processes, perform issue tracking and implement data analytic tools and techniques. We are totally green in our audits. All our audit papers are now retained digitally. We are saving thousands of trees, and saving lots of money.

Audit reports should be widely distributed. We do this digitally and some printed copies placed around the city.

Finally, perhaps the most important point discussed at the conference is audit independence. And I vow to you we will maintain, protect and defend the professional independences of our audits and the same is true for our city’s audit committee.

Kip shared with us that our office is conceptually aligned with all the thematic areas from a strategic perspective. I wish to thank Kip Memmott for helping me move our office with vision and hope forward in all the above areas. The Denver taxpayers are the winners in this effort.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Poverty in Denver

Denver's Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations has just issued an excellent profile on poverty in Denver. Did you know that in 2008 11.4% of Colorado's population lived below the federal poverty level? In 2008 18.4% of Denver citizens lived below the 2008 poverty levels. Being below the poverty level means you earn less than $21,200 for a family of four and 10,400 for a single person.

In the section on older Denverites, 10,000 of the nearly 70,000 live in poverty.

The Picture of Poverty Report is available in PDF format at for quick access and downloading. Or if you are computer challenged, call the agency 720-913-8450 as they have a few printed copies.

So get informed and tell your friends and neighbors about what's really going on in our neighborhoods. Many of the statistics will upset you. The report contains excellent action items and recommendations which citizens and community leaders can push to help solve this important issue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Responsive Chord

For many years I taught an Introductory Mass Media Class. I used as one of my texts, The Responsive Chord by Tony Schwartz. Schwartz, an old-time radio ad man, is remembered most for the famous Daisy Spot which helped put Lyndon Johnson back in the White House.

The spot only showed once on the popular Sunday Night Movies, the Sunday evening before the election. The ad raised a big fuss because it played on a responsive chord playing among citizens who had been hearing Barry Goldwater declare for months that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" The implied threat by Goldwater told voters that he would press the nuclear trigger first against the Russians and Communists.

Here's how Schwartz laid out the ad. The opening scene shows a little blond girl in a field of daisys. She is pulling the petals one by one, like "loves me" or "loves me not." But with each petal pull, a voice-over counts down from 10 to 1. Then a nuclear bomb destroys everything, the little girl and all the daisys in the field. President Johnson's voice concludes the ad with something like, "you better be careful who you vote for president." The line implied that Goldwater would start a nuclear war, "just let me get my index finger near that button."

Even Colorado went for Johnson in that election. Republicans fumed over the Daisy Spot, saying it was untrue and unfair. The Democrats cleverly responded that they did not even mention Goldwater's name.

The American Lung Association asked Schwartz to come up with an anti-smoking ad. He did not show damaged lungs, seared fingers, or folks spitting up blood. Schwartz showed two kids in a house playing in the attic. The little girl puts on the white wedding veil from grandma. The little boy puts on the top hat and black coat from grandpa's wedding. The final shots show the kids walking toward the sun shining through the attic window. A voice then says: "Kids love to imitate adults. Do you smoke?" The Association reported they got more calls on how to stop smoking from that ad than any other. Schwartz hit the responsive chord among even smokers that they smoked but they cared about their children and did not want to see the kids take up smoking.

So campaigns can learn lots about hitting the responsive chord. But trying to find out what themes hit the responsive chord with the voters is the question. Republicans tried to build up a base for a responsive chord against the recent health care legislation, but polls show that they have missed the mark.

I left a copy of Schwartz's book at Regis Library. See if you can hit a responsive chord.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Royal Trappings

The founders nurtured a great fear of royalty and royal titles, and royal trappings. Fearful that the British or some other royalists might try to set up a king in the former American colonies pushed the founders to ban congress from granting royal titles altogether. Article I, Section 9, last paragraph first sentence could not make it clearer how the founders detested the royalists: "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States." This sentence is one of my favorites in the whole constitution. Royalty never did any good for my family nor anybody else's in my view. Can you imagine the costs of keeping kings and queens and princes?

Thomas Jefferson championed no royal trappings in governmental functions. In 1797, he almost skipped his own swearing in as vice president because it reminded him of ceremonies too close to royal coronations he had seen in Europe. An important anniversary is coming up for our country. In preparing for his own inaugural on March 1 1801, Jefferson prepared by studying how his predecessors handled their inaugurals. He asked his cousin, Chief Justice John Marshall to administer the oath from the constitution as his presidential oath. Marshall had his own doubts as to how well Jefferson would do as president, but said he would be happy to do so. Marshall did just fine reading the oath and Jefferson did not have to be sworn in again like Obama listening to the oath read by a nervous and bumbling Roberts.

Jefferson studied how Washington handled his inaugural. He had a fine coach with six white horses, wore his uniform and sported his trusty military sword. Adams knocked the horses down to two. He wore a simple broad cloth suit. Adams wanted to be a "republican president in earnest." Jefferson wore a simple suit, no powered wig, no sword, and skipped the horses and carriage, decided to walk everywhere on his inauguration day. In his inaugural speech Jefferson paid homage to Washington. Jefferson called him "entitled." But not royally titled and remember some wanted Washington to be crowned king and thankfully he refused.

America still harbors a lot of royal sympathizers in our midst. I guess we could call them "closet monarchists." Remember the uproarious hurrahs greeting Queen Elizabeth II when she addressed the Virginia Legislature on a visit to her family's former colony. One could feel a movement back to England in the chamber. "Tell us what to do, your majesty, we are ready to line up," seemed to capture the royal love feast.

Now what has this got to do with the Denver Auditor's Office? This question is probably asked lots about many of my blog entries.

Firstly, auditors have to continually fight the attitude in many government employees, appointed and career service, that they are special and entitled to the trappings of their office. "I'm special, I'm entitled, I deserve my government car etc." You ought to hear the arguing over how many horse power vehicles are allocated to various agencies. People argue over desks, size, placement. Who has a window or not? It's like my kids shouting "shotgun" when we got in my old Buick.

So auditors should stand four-square with the Constitution, "No title of nobility." We must continually fight the culture of the special, the important, the puffed up, and the entitled. It saves taxpayers money to look for ways to change the culture of the special treatments afforded some government officials entitled to their special benefits thanks to the taxpayer's dime. I think this is why folks are so hopping mad at Congress. They are important and entitled. Check their health plans and their pensions. You will get my drift.