ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two days after the release of a forensic audit pointing fingers at faulty fiscal management by former Mayor Mark Begich and the Anchorage Assembly in 2008, the Assembly had a chance to ask questions Friday.
The audit found that Begich failed to submit and the Assembly failed to request monthly financial reports. Not everyone was happy with how the audit turned out, leading Assembly members to search for solutions.
Assembly member Bill Starr accused Begich of deliberately misleading the Assembly in 2008 about the state of city finances before passing his next year's budget and several union contracts. Starr even proposed legal action -- charges of falsifying public records -- for those involved.
“There needs to be ramifications for improper actions, and if there's actions that either violated our municipal charter or if they broke state statute, its our job to figure that out,” Starr said.
Begich spokesperson Julie Hasquet has called those allegations hysterical, and says that the report shows he didn't do anything illegal. City attorney Dennis Wheeler says for any prosecution to happen there needs to be proof of intent, which he says he doesn't have.
“I don't have a document or testimony that demonstrates a deliberate intention that a smoking gun exists,” Wheeler said.
The audit accused Begich's staff of using an incorrect formula to calculate the amount of money in city accounts known as fund balances -- but even the auditors say it's a difficult thing to predict.
“To do it with 100 percent accuracy is probably impossible,” said Ron Wise with MRW Consulting, which conducted the audit.
To prevent confusion like this in the future, several on the Assembly suggested rehiring budget analysts to the Assembly's staff -- positions that were eliminated years ago.
“A lot of things used to be provided to the body, that are no longer provided to the body,” said Assembly member Mike Gutierrez. “It might be worth our while to consider we need to have these things again.”
Assembly member Paul Honeman says a budget analyst would reassure the Assembly about budget numbers, and give members greater oversight than they now have.
“Now, literally, this legislative body that's supposed to do a check and balance has to rely on the information from the executive branch -- the counterpoint to the balance here,” Honeman said.
But others spoke out against the idea, saying the Assembly doesn't have the money for additional staff.
“We do not, and I do not think we should, have the resources to duplicate what the administration gives us in terms of providing financial information,” Ossiander said.
Assembly Chair Dick Traini, who is in charge of the Assembly’s budget, says he thinks hiring a budget analyst would be beneficial.
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