Top Denver watchdog dropping audits on the city’s handling of homeless encampments, affordable housing and more in 2022

O’Brien’s to-do list hits all the way down: B-sides include recycling and composting, campaign finance and child welfare placement.

Denver City Auditor Timothy M. O'Brien speaks to a reporter in his office, April 3, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver City Auditor Timothy M. O'Brien speaks to a reporter in his office, April 3, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

kyle harris

The city’s residents have spoken, and Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien says he’s listening as he sets his department’s priorities for next year.

He’s swinging big with his 2022 audit plan, taking on some of the city’s most pressing issues: how the city is managing homeless encampments, residential permitting and affordable housing, along with dives into campaign finance, City Council operations, the city’s recycling and composting programs, Denver Human Services’ child welfare placement systems, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and Denver Water.

“While a variety of factors impact which audits we add to the plan, this year’s list is exceptionally responsive to community input,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Our residents are letting us know what’s most important to them, and I applaud the widespread interest in our city’s key issues.”

While the auditor’s office had been planning to dig into the city’s homeless services, he bumped the management of encampments to the top of his list, to address residents’ loud concerns. Still, if all goes as planned, the shelters will come under his scrutiny next year.

He’s also going to be examining mental health services in city jails and how the system does (or doesn’t) support people after they’re released; airport construction; and ongoing dives into contract compliance, cybersecurity and construction projects.

The office plans to continue to pay special attention to how city agencies are handling diversity, equity and inclusion and following up on past audits where agencies were missing the mark.

While he’s required to announce a plan in the third week of October, his focus is subject to change based on follow-ups from last year’s audits — and issues the public brings to him.

Over the past year, his office has audited Denver Golf operations, airport parking shuttle system, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the Denver Art Museum and more.

While many in the public may want answers about how city government is doing fast, he cautions that his process takes time.

“The audit process is not quick,” notes O’Brien. “We take the time needed to do our due diligence and fact-checking, while adhering to generally accepted government auditing standards as required by the charter. This is how the public knows our work is of the highest quality and can be trusted.”

His hope is that people continue to bring their worries about city government to his office and that his list of priorities demonstrates his commitment to being responsive. After all, as an elected official, his future in the office is dependent on his accountability to the public.

“I often tell people I meet at community meetings: If you know of a concern in your community, please let us know,” O’Brien said. “While I can’t assign audit resources to every complaint email we receive, when we hear the same concerns repeated by many members of the community, that’s a strong indicator that the topic should be higher on our priority list.”

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