Mayor L. Douglas Wilder marched into office in 2005, vowing to bring transparency to Richmond's government.
But with just 10 months left in his term, seemingly counter to his pledge, Wilder's administration remains resolute in its refusal to allow City Auditor Umesh Dalal to purchase or install a City Council-approved computer application that would allow him view-only access to all city departments, their finances and operations.
"This is a tool the City Auditor's Office needs to do its job," says Dalal, who has negotiated with Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian and the city's information technology department in hopes of gaining permission to use the software.
"We have gotten no cooperation."
Wilder administration officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
"I have personally talked to
Hill-Christian on two occasions, and I still do not understand the reasons why I cannot implement this software," Dalal says.
The city charter appears to give no justification to refuse Dalal access to real-time information. Indeed, the charter specifically provides for the auditor's unrestricted access to information whenever he requests it.
"This is something, it appears, that is denying the city auditor's office their charter privilege," Dalal says, "and it also lessens the accountability on the administration's part."
That was a problem in July during Dalal's audit of the city's procurement department, when acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black insisted that all of Dalal's information requests go through the mayor's office. At the time, Dalal said his concern was that the city might have the opportunity to edit the information they provided and "hamper the validity of the information."
The administration's refusal to allow electronic access to Dalal makes no sense to City Council President Bill Pantele.
"This is the kind of information that the chief administrative officer should insist that [Dalal] should have available to him," Pantele says.
The software would make such audits and financial investigations more proactive, says Pantele, who suggests that attempts to violate procurement or accounts payable policies might be caught before they're allowed to occur.
"I don't think there's any good excuse for not [installing the computer program]," Pantele says. "It leads me to ask whether there is something that needs to be hidden." Click here for more News and Features