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Lake Geneva council delays action on audit plea

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Kayla Bunge
May 25, 2010
— The Lake Geneva City Council on Monday delayed its decision on a call from more than 400 residents for an independent and comprehensive audit of city finances.

Barbara Hartke, who circulated the petition for direct legislation as part of her campaign for District 2 alderwoman, presented the petition to the council April 27. City Clerk Diana Dykstra certified the petition May 7.


The council must decide within 30 days whether to adopt the ordinance or send the proposal to referendum. The council could choose to deny the ordinance, but the petitioners could bring legal action against the city to force it to enact the legislation.


The petition calls for:


-- A moratorium on non-emergency spending and promises of contractual monetary obligations until the city can guarantee it has enough money to cover such actions.


-- An independent and comprehensive audit of city finances, including auxiliary agencies.


City Attorney Dan Draper told the council in a memo that petitions for direct legislation have some limitations, including that they must be legislative, not administrative in nature. He tried to explain the difference based on past court cases but couldn't because a 2003 case involving the village of Mount Horeb blurred the distinction between the two.


The council first attempted to deny the petition, but it later halted that discussion.


"You have to understand that if you decide that you do not want to pass it in its present form, and that you do not want to refer it to referendum, then you should state some reason why you aren't going to do either one so we at least have a record in case an action is brought by the petitioners to force us to adopt this legislation," Draper said.


Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier moved to delay action on the petition because she wanted more time to digest the material in the memo.


"It's a lot to process," she said. "It's hard to look at all this information and weigh all the options without taking some time to go through it."


The council voted unanimously to schedule a special meeting in the next two weeks to discuss and take action on the petition.


Hartke previously has told the Gazette that having an independent and comprehensive audit is smart and responsible.


She has said the city relies only on the annual audit, which is mandated by state law. She also has said many municipalities undergo comprehensive audits by independent firms every few years to ensure finances are being handled properly.


Art Tillman of Deignan and Associates, the local accounting firm that for years has done the annual audit, said the annual audit already is independent and comprehensive and a second audit would be a waste of money.


"We are not just bookkeepers," he said. "We do all the things required by our standards, government standards. I feel we've done a great job. I'm not worried about having an audit. I just think it would be a waste of money."



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