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Hope Considering Bill to Allow Arlington to Hire Independent Auditor

Del. Patrick Hope speaks at a ribbon-cutting for the new Route 50/N. Courthouse Road interchange(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) has drafted a bill that would authorize the Arlington County Board to hire an independent auditor.

Such legislation, should it pass the Republican-controlled state legislature, would be a victory for County Board members Libby Garvey (D) and John Vihstadt (I), who have championed the hiring of an independent auditor as a way to bring more accountability to county government. Hope’s legislation would only authorize the hiring, it would not require the County Board to do so. It would also apply to other Virginia jurisdictions with a County Manager form of government.

Currently, the County Board does not have the authority to hire an independent auditor, since Virginia is a Dillon Rule state and the County Manager form of government doesn’t provide any provisions for such a hire.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan could hire an internal auditor — in fact, it appears that her staff is doing so — but Vihstadt has said that doesn’t provide the level of independence that he desires.

(Fairfax County, with its County Executive form of government, already has an independent auditor that reports to a Board of Supervisors committee. Virginia cities also have independent auditor hiring authority.)

Hope says he thinks his bill could get bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

“This is a good government bill,” he told ARLnow.com Thursday afternoon. “It makes government more transparent, more open. I can’t find fault with it.”

Hope has yet to introduce the bill and is still considering it. The deadline to introduce the legislation is Jan. 23. Garvey said she hopes the bill will be introduced.

“I’m pleased that he is considering putting it in, and I think it’s important that the Board has the power to hire an independent auditor if they so choose,” she said. Asked about the importance of the auditor reporting directly to the Board instead of the Manager, she said its a matter of “checks and balances.”

“If the auditor reports to the Manager, it’s not really very independent,” she said. “I just think that it’s simply a good government… it checks the staff and checks the Board and makes the public comfortable that there’s an independent eye keeping tabs on things.”

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