Turns out you don’t have to be a licensed accountant to audit Denver’s finances, but that might change

Denver’s current auditor might knock on your door for a signature next election season.
2 min. read
Governing Auditing Standards, 2018 Revision inside Auditor Tim O’Brien’s office at the Wellington Webb Municipal Building, Sept. 3, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City Auditor Timothy O'Brien wants to add a new qualification for the person who eventually replaces him, and he's taking an unusual route to try to make it happen.

O'Brien is proposing a new law requiring all future elected city auditors to be certified public accountants, or CPAs. O'Brien is only the second elected auditor with a CPA license, according to a statement from his office. He has floated an initiated ordinance, meaning he will have to collect more than 8,000 valid signatures to get the question before Denver voters in November 2020.

"I just think it's a missing element in Denver law that needs to be specifically articulated," O'Brien said.

Current city law calls for conducting audits in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards, implying professional qualification requirements but not mandating them.

O'Brien -- whose office conducts both performance and financial audits of city-run entities -- has formed a committee to strategize how to get the law on the ballot. Right now the draft language asks voters, simply, if the auditor should be "a certified public accountant licensed in the state of Colorado." He said the proposed law is about improving "the structure of government."

The auditor does not believe he has the support of the Denver City Council, he told Denverite.

Council President Jolon Clark said he has not seen any formal request for the Council to hear this proposal, nor has he spoken to O'Brien about the proposed law. Clark's staff confirmed O'Brien intends to file the proposal under an initiated ordinance, instead of having the Council refer it to voters. Clark said most elected officials typically take the route involving City Council when attempting to implement a new law.

Last year, for example, then-City Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson testified in favor of new laws the Council considered and then referred to the 2018 ballot.

O'Brien's proposal will be heard on Sept. 11 for a review and comment meeting with City Council staff and an assistant city attorney, according to city documents.

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