The elected township auditor’s role is to act as a fiscal watchdog for the citizens of the township. One duty in Article IX of the township code is to hear cases involving financial loss to the township as caused by any elected or appointed official, who have acted in a violation of law or beyond the scope of their office. It stands to reason that an auditor must have full access to township records if any malfeasance is to be discovered. Otherwise, you have a situation where the foxes are running the hen house, so to speak. In other PA townships where I have inquired, the auditors are invited to examine the books at any time and work hand-in-hand with township officials to make sure there is nothing illegal or inappropriate about how the tax money forcibly extracted from the citizenry is spent and accounted for.
In fact, one of the reasons I ran for township auditor was so I could view township records, especially I believe in a fully transparent and accountable government. (Now, one would think that if the government truly works for the people, you, as the taxpayer/owner, could show up and view just about anything, but this is certainly a fiction as governments don’t report to the taxpayers. But I digress!)
Following the reorganization meeting on January 3, 2018, I politely inquired of the township secretary when I could look at the township’s financial records on my own time at no cost to the township to acquaint myself with the township finances and spending. I was verbally informed that I must file Right-To-Know requests in order to view any documents. This is very restrictive as the township can delay answering a RTK request for weeks, and then require a new RTK for any other documentation not listed in the original RTK request. Also, the government entity does not have to answer any questions a taxpayer may have, RTKL only governs the release of records that should be public anyway.
From my email to the township secretary on January 15, 2018 after she released the last several annual township audits which are now available here:
Thanks for sending these documents. I am still reviewing the past audits, but they seem extremely basic.
You had mentioned that even as auditor, I would need to file paperwork in order to look at the township’s detailed financial records. I’ve spoken to other 2nd class township auditors in Pennsylvania, and they had no hindering paperwork required to view records, and frankly were invited to look at records at any time. Is it really true I need to file paperwork to view the township’s financial records? If so, can you please direct me as to how to do so? I really would not want to file a request for each and every record, and under 1933 Act 69 it really doesn’t call out for the hindering of township auditors in this respect – in fact the opposite…
After receiving no response for 2 weeks, I asked the above again and the next day on January 30, 2018, received the below email from the township manager.
It is my understanding that you have made requests to Tammi regarding various financial documents from the Township in your capacity as a Township auditor. Please be advised that as Open Records Officer and Township Manager, I am requiring you to file an Open Records Request under the Right to Know law for any and all public records that you are requesting.
The role of elected auditor is established in the Second Class Township Code (Act of May 1, 1933 as amended) under Section 901. This section outlines the responsibilities of an elected auditor, which does include a provision that the “board of auditors shall audit, settle and adjust the accounts of all elected or appointed officials of the township and its boards or agencies that received or disbursed funds of or owing to the township during the immediately preceding calendar year.” However, Section 917 (Appointment of Accountant), Subsection C clearly indicates that “when an accountant or firm is appointed under Subsection (a) or (b), the board of auditors shall not audit, settle or adjust the accounts audited by the appointee but shall perform the other duties of the office.” Therefore, since the Township appoints and utilizes the services of France, Andersen and Basile as the auditor, it would be contrary to the Second Class Township code for you to audit, settle or adjust the accounts of the Township in your capacity as an auditor.
Secondly, the request to perform any type of audit on the Township financials, even if permitted by the Second Class Township Code, should come from a quorum of the Board of Auditors, not a single auditor. In any event, the above paragraph details why that wouldn’t be appropriate. Therefore, it is my determination that if you have requests for financial information, you are entitled to the same public records as any other person under the Right-to-Know Law. However, this requires you to fill out the appropriate right-to-know form as well as being subject to the same fees as any other member of the public.
I trust this is responsive to your inquiry.
Lori A. Stauffer, Esq.
Lower Nazareth Township
Well, I thought, perhaps the township manager does not understand that I only wish to VIEW records, not perform an audit, as she is correct in regards to the Board of Auditors needing a quorum to undertake official actions. So I wrote:
Dear Ms. Stauffer –
Just to clear up any misunderstanding, I am not requesting to perform the annual township audit under Section 904. As you correctly noted, under Section 917 if an accountant is properly appointed by the board of supervisors, the elected auditors do not perform any auditing. However, if I may apply the emphasis you did to a different part of Section 917 (c), it reads “the board of auditors shall not audit, settle or adjust the accounts audited by the appointee but shall perform the other duties of the office.”
What I am requesting at this point is simply to view township financial records to acquaint myself with the township finances on my own time without compensation while unhindered by the time-consuming RTK requests.
The role of the elected auditor, as I understand it, is to act as a fiscal watchdog for the citizens of the township on the rest of the township government. Under Section 901, (I believe we may have different interpretations of different parts), but one part that is certainly not delegated to the outside accounting firm is to audit records of the local district judge, if deemed appropriate. Another duty, under Section 907, is to hear cases involving financial loss to the township as caused by any elected or appointed official, who have acted in a violation of law or beyond the scope of their office.
These tasks would be much easier to accomplish with unobstructed access to the township records…
If you lay out the duties of the Board of Auditors as defined in Section 901 of the Second Class Township Code, they are enumerated as follows:
- The Board of Auditors shall meet annually at the place of meeting of the Board of Supervisors on the day following the day designated by this act for organization of the Board of Supervisors;
- They shall elect a Chairman and a Secretary;
- The Board of Auditors shall audit, settle and adjust the accounts of all elected or appointed officials of the township and its boards or agencies that received or disbursed funds of or owing to the township during the immediately preceding calendar year;
- The Board of Auditors shall determine the compensations for the current year authorized in Section 606 for supervisors employed by the Township.
- The Auditors may also make an audit of the dockets, transcripts and other official records of the district justices to determine the amount of fines and costs paid over or due the township; and the dockets and records of the district justice shall be open to inspection by the auditors for that purpose.
Given Section 917(c) precludes the elected auditors from performing the duty of auditing, settling, or adjusting the accounts of all elected or appointed official of the Township, that does leave you with the remaining duties.
The Board of Auditors performed the first duty. You held an annual reorganization meeting following the day after the Board of Supervisors organized. During the course of this reorganization meeting, you should have elected a chairman and a secretary. This would satisfy your second responsibility. Since the third responsibility is handled through an appointed auditor, there is nothing for the Board of Auditors to handle under this particular duty. The fourth responsibility was handled during the course of your reorganization meeting and it is reflected in the minutes accordingly.
Finally, the fifth responsibility indicates the auditors may (not shall) also make an audit of the dockets, transcripts and other official records of the district justices. While the Township does receive an annual report from the district court showing an audit of their records and the Township’s CPA does verify as part of the annual audit that the funds due to the Township are in fact the funds received by the Township, this section would allow the Board of Auditors to audit these particular records with this audit occurring at the office of the district justice. Also, Section 907 gives the Board of Auditors authority to surcharge an elected or appointed officer for the amount of any loss to the Township caused in whole or in part by the officer’s act or omission in violation of law or beyond the scope of the officer’s authority. At this time, the CPA has not leveraged any allegations of loss on the part of any elected or appointed official. This section does not grant you authority to audit the accounts to seek out such evidence as that duty as enumerated under number three above is delegated to an appointed CPA. If the majority of the Board of Auditors determines they would like to audit the district justice’s office, arrangements can be made directly with the district court.
You will note the language of the statute continually refers to auditors in the plural sense, not a single auditor acting on his own. When you, in your single capacity, request for Township records, you are doing so as a citizen of the community who happens to have the title of elected auditor. The Board of Auditors must act as a group, not as single individuals. Furthermore, by asking to review (audit) Township financial records in your capacity as a Township auditor is a direct violation of Section 917. As a citizen, you are more than welcome to file a Right-to-Know request to obtain copies of documents. The documents will be reproduced and you may pick them up as soon as they are ready. This is not an obstruction. It is merely following the law of the Commonwealth.
Lori A. Stauffer, Esq.
Now, I am not the sharpest sometimes, but it appears Ms. Stauffer is threatening me in that even just (in her words) “asking to review (audit) Township financial records in your capacity as a Township auditor is a direct violation of Section 917.” However, I have very plainly stated in each email I just wish to view the records NOT audit them. And there is no requirement that a township must force RTKL requests at any taxpayer wanting to know certain information! (In fact, it is the reverse!) Whatever else you wish to call it, RTKL is certainly an obstruction to obtaining public records. Governments are not required to answer any questions other than to release already-existing records. Township residents whom I tell this story are incredulous that an elected official can not freely access records.
In February, I contacted the other two auditors and for various reasons neither agreed to discuss further at that time. I decided it would be helpful to know past historical official actions of the Board of Auditors, and figured that since I am an elected auditor, I should at least have free access to those. Not so! My February 25 email:
Dear Ms. Stauffer and Tammi –
Could you please send me all of the meeting minutes for the township board of auditors from January 1, 2000 through December 31, 2016?
And the township’s swift response:
Good morning Jake:
Please complete the attached Right-To-Know request form. Upon receipt I will gather the documents requested. Please be sure to note whether you would like paper copies or to have the records emailed to your attention. Please note the fee for paper copies is $0.25 per page.
Keep in mind that nowhere in the township code is there any stipulation to deny access to individual auditors. The code is written with the understanding that the Board of Auditors is a check and balance of sorts on the township government, although Ms. Stauffer is correct in that official actions require a quorum of 2 of the 3 auditors.
On March 14, 2018, I attended the township’s Board of Supervisors meeting and made a brief comment specifically for the public record regarding auditor access to township records was denied by Ms. Stauffer (who also happens to be the Open Records Officer who will approve or deny my requests!) and that I would be seeking RTKL requests to free information to share with the taxpayer. The Board of Supervisors listened politely to my comment, made no further remark, and adjourned the meeting.
For further information on the Lower Nazareth township auditor position, please visit here.