City Auditor’s Office could get more power to investigate groups that receive taxpayer dollars

A proposed bill would give the auditor subpoena power for performance audits.
2 min. read
Denver City Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien speaks to a reporter in his office, April 3, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver Auditor’s Office could get more power to investigate groups that receive tax dollars, as part of a new bill that would give the office subpoena power. 

City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee voted Tuesday to move the bill onto full Council for a vote.

The move comes after City Council unanimously passed a similar bill in April giving the Auditor subpoena power to investigate claims of wage theft.

Now Auditor Timothy O’Brien wants that same tool as part of its work conducting performance audits of city agencies, contractors and any groups that receive tax dollars.

“The problem we’re trying to solve is that in many audits … there comes a point in time where the Auditor’s Office requests information of someone and the entity being audited does not want to provide it, and there is right now no resolution for that conflict,” said Councilmember Amanda Sawyer, who is bringing the bill forward along with Councilmember Sarah Parady.

The Auditor's Office once had this power

The office briefly had that power after a Council bill in 2021.

But a last-minute amendment allowing audited groups to restrict documents to on-site access, out of fears of overreach, prompted O’Brien to sue the city. City Council repealed subpoena powers entirely to avoid litigating a potentially costly lawsuit.

Now that power could return.

How would this work?

Its structure is similar to the wage theft bill, where audited groups can appeal subpoena requests to a third-party hearing officer, who could modify or deny the subpoena or add additional data protections.

Disputes about data privacy during performance audits have come up in the past when the Auditor’s Office requested access to documents.

Labor advocates are in favor of the bill

The bill has the support of the Auditor's Office, along with a similar group of labor advocates who supported the wage theft bill.

“Our auditor has been a champion for people with disabilities,” said Julie Reiskin, co-executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, at public comment on Tuesday. “These audits have all led to improvements that alluded us without the objective information uncovered in an audit.”

Reiskin also talked about the need for oversight of public dollars. 

“I’m also here as a taxpayer,” she said. “Sometimes the answer is more money but sometimes the answer is more accountability.”

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