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Sun Gazette: Governor signs legislation allowing Arlington County Board to hire auditor Print

Created: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 8:00AM


Gov. McAuliffe on March 17 signed legislation allowing the Arlington County Board to directly employ its own auditor. Whether the board chooses to act on the opportunity remains to be seen – and the issue appears to be leaving some bad blood among board members.

McAuliffe's signature on the legislation patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) had been expected, as the proposal passed both houses of the General Assembly unanimously and had the support of the Arlington County Civic Federation, Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Arlington County Taxpayers Association.

"I'm thrilled," County Board member John Vihstadt said at the board's March 17 meeting.

It was Vihstadt and colleague Libby Garvey who asked Hope to introduce the legislation. When County Board member Jay Fisette agreed to support it, giving the proposal a board majority, the county government dropped its expected objections and the measure sailed through in Richmond.

The legislation does not require the County Board to hire an auditor, only gives it the ability to do so, and the details of the job are not included in the legislation, but left to be ironed out among board members.

"We now have a tool; you still have to have goals," County Board Chairman Mary Hynes said.

(Hynes, who on March 17 was presiding over a meeting that seemed unusually acrimonious on a host of issues, herself took a shot at Vihstadt and Garvey for going directly to Hope to seek the legislation, rather than trying to get buy-in from all board members.)

Even if board members agree to fill the position, it's an open question whether it will be someone who looks only at dollar figures, or – more like an inspector general – one who has powers to investigate government spending and the effectiveness of programs.

Board member Walter Tejada, who seems disinclined to fill the position, expressed concern that the individual in the job could wield too much power.

"What are the checks and balances for that person going to be?" Tejada asked, saying the county government needed to "put in place mechanisms to prevent . . . someone [doing] the wrong thing."

But filling the position seems a relatively foregone conclusion, with Hynes and Tejada leaving the board at the end of the year and Fisette, Garvey and Vihstadt remaining.

"The majority of the board definitely supports it," said Fisette, himself a former government auditor.

Under its governing framework, the County Board currently only hires and supervises three positions: county manager, county attorney and clerk to the board. All other government employees report up the chain of command to County Manager Barbara Donnellan.

Legislation adding the auditor position to that threesome goes into effect July 1.