Endorsement: Tim O’Brien for Denver auditor will bring tried and true leadership

Editor’s note: This represents the opinion of The Denver Post editorial board, which is separate from the paper’s news operation. 

Now is not the time to shake up the Denver Auditor’s Office.

The city needs tried and true leadership in this crucial oversight role and Tim O’Brien fits the bill.

He’s served two terms in the office and has sought an expanded role for the auditors working in his office. O’Brien has implemented security audits for the first time that have successfully sleuthed out IT vulnerabilities across the city. And some of the office’s best work has been audits of external city programs that are still funded by Denver taxpayers.

His notable record includes an office that has won several Knighton Awards — given by the Association of Local Government Auditors for the best performance audit reports of the year in the U.S. Most recently the office earned a “distinguished” rating for its audit of the airport parking shuttle system where reviewers noted the audit’s recommendations could “ensure compliance with the shuttle service contract; shuttle services are provided at the best value, and passengers receive quality and timely shuttle service.”

O’Brien’s office has been proven right in its assessment of the city’s half-baked plan to roll out the “pay-as-you-throw” program. O’Brien noted at the time that “given the city’s strained resources, the expansion of recycling and compost service next year will be a significant burden that might not come with the hoped-for environmental benefits.”

And here we are two months into the new program and residents still don’t have compost bins, everyone is unclear about the timeline and nothing has changed except for fees being imposed. While weekly recycling has begun, smaller or larger trash cans have not been delivered to those who have ordered them.

What a shame that Denver City Council and the mayor’s office didn’t read the audit and put the brakes on a program that was destined for a poor debut. The city should have cleaned up its trash department — including addressing a costly, aging fleet and workforce issues — before concerning itself so much with how Denverites choose to run their household waste.

O’Brien needs to use his next term, if voters grant him one, to push even more. The trash audit is a perfect example of where he could have used the platform his office affords to — while, of course, maintaining the neutrality required of auditors — advocate more forcefully for a direction change.

Also, there is a role for the auditor’s office to examine contracts and look for conflicts of interest in how the city awards millions of dollars to bidders. The auditor’s office can look for misappropriation of taxpayer dollars in special districts in the city, especially as The River Mile project begins and private developers look to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars through several metro districts, which are often completely controlled by the developers with little to no external oversight.

O’Brien has done a great job administering his office and pushing for top-notch audits, but Denver taxpayers need those audits to have maximum impact.

O’Brien’s opponent, Erik Clarke, is also a strong candidate. He’s got a background of working on audits for several different companies, including now in a management role. We were particularly inspired by Clarke’s call for construction audits earlier in the process, especially at the Denver airport where the airport authority is now frantically trying to complete the Great Hall project.

Clarke said construction audits early in the process could have prevented the missteps that led to the Great Hall fiasco.

But at the end of the day, we think O’Brien has the track record needed to keep the auditor’s office pushing Denver toward better governance and transparency.

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