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Hillsborough County Commission cuts staff and scope of work for auditor

TAMPA — Hillsborough County's internal performance auditor will see his duties and staff sharply cut next year.

Jim Barnes will no longer carry out performance audits for the county, as a result of a 6-1 vote by county commissioners Wednesday. Instead, commissioners directed him to outsource the work to private firms, whose audits he will oversee.

With the vote, commissioners also told Barnes they will cut his staff in half — reducing it to him and a secretary. Two assistant auditors must leave by Oct. 1.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who recommended the action, said it will bring the position in line with what she believes voters approved in 2002.

"We need to get back to the program," Ferlita said.

Both Barnes and his predecessor have been criticized by commissioners for seeking to expand their responsibilities while doing too few audits. Barnes, in particular, has taken heat for seeking steep pay raises for himself and his staff despite a lack of finished work product.

The county administration also has questioned the legitimacy of many of the findings of the audits he has completed.

A St. Petersburg Times story last month showed that the office has completed just three performance audits of county programs since it was created six years ago, while completing several other limited-scope analyses of county programs. Nevertheless, the office had grown from two people to four, with a budget of nearly $500,000 this year.

The story also noted that commissioners frequently have sent the auditor on side jobs that have kept the staff from audit work.

Some of the commissioners acknowledged Wednesday they have not done a good job of setting clear expectations for the office and sticking to them. Their vote Wednesday sought to remedy that essentially by making the auditor a contract manager.

Barnes said he welcomed the direction, later adding that it likely will mean he will not be able to continue some of his other responsibilities as a budget analyst on behalf of the board.

Commissioners will later set a budget for Barnes' office to hire outside firms. They directed Barnes to work with the county clerk of courts, which also does audits for the county, in order to stretch those dollars.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham cast the dissenting vote.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough County Commission cuts staff and scope of work for auditor 05/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 10:37pm]
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