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Achieving Honesty, Efficient Management and Full Accountability Throughout City Government Susan Cohen, City Auditor

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Audit Reports:

2011 Reports

Update on Action Items: City Should Take Steps to Enhance Pedestrian and Cyclist Mobility Through and Around Construction Sites

September 20, 2011

Focus: To report on the implementation status of nine action items the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) agreed to perform to improve pedestrian and cyclist access and safety through and around construction sites.

Results: SDOT has made progress on all nine action items, either implementing them as intended (#’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9) or choosing an alternative approach to address the issue (#’s 3 and 8). However, because many of the action items resulted in the creation of new policies and procedures, we recommend that the Seattle City Council monitor their effectiveness by asking SDOT to provide additional information.

Status Report on Implementation of Audit Recommendations 2007 - June 2011

September 20, 2011

Focus: To report on the implementation status of recommendations from audit reports published by our office from 2007 through June 2011.

Results: We reviewed the status of 267 recommendations contained in 29 audit reports published by our office from January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2011. As of June 30, 2011, 61 percent of our recommendations (163 out of 267) were implemented, 32 percent (86 out of 267) were pending, 7 percent (18 out of 267) did not warrant further follow-up, and fewer than 1 percent were recommendations with which auditees disagreed. The report also discusses our process for tracking and following up on audit recommendations, and lists each recommendation by audit report title, recommendation description, implementation status, and date of implementation.

Promising Practices in Risk Management

June 22, 2011

Focus: To review risk management best practices implemented by public entities within the State of Washington and around the country.

Results: In 2010, the City of Seattle spent $11.08 million out of its Judgment and Claims Subfund to settle claims and lawsuits against the City.

  • We identified five promising practices that are parts of robust risk management programs and found that the City’s recently revised draft Enhanced Loss Control Procedures are consistent with these practices.
  • The jurisdictions we surveyed varied in their organizational and legal structures and no one structure stood out as a risk management best practice.
  • One tool, the Cost of Risk index (total claims/total budget), not currently used by the City of Seattle, is generally accepted as a standard risk management industry measure of effectiveness.
  • All the jurisdictions we surveyed, except one, use a combination of setting aside reserves and insuring against catastrophic losses to cover their judgment and claims costs. We found only one jurisdiction, King County, which incorporates a direct financial incentive into its loss reserves cost allocation methodology.

City of Seattle Anti-Litter Efforts - Final Report

April 19, 2011

Focus: To examine what the City of Seattle (City) does to reduce and prevent ground/street litter in public spaces such as sidewalks, streets, and parks; examine the City's litter laws and enforcement rates; research other jurisdictions' successful litter laws and innovative efforts to abate litter.

Results: The City has litter programs and activities in a number of department (including Seattle Public Utilities, Parks and Recreation, Transportation, Finance and Administration, Neighborhoods, and the Seattle Municipal Court) and spent about $8.2 million on them in 2009. Most City litter programs operate effectively with little interdepartmental coordination required. The City has laws against littering and accumulation of solid waste but they are rarely enforced. Except for hazardous substances or litter that is an immediate threat to the health or safety of the public, City law is silent on responsibility for the removal of accumulated solid waste in amounts equal to or less than one cubic foot by property owners on their properties and adjacent rights-of-way. One recommendation we made is for the City to consider whether it makes sense to replace the current volume standard for removal of accumulated solid waste with a qualitative standard, such as "unsightly" or "unsanitary", to address the removal of all litter, not only from a public safety standpoint but also from a visual disorder or cleanliness standpoint. We also made five more recommendations on operational strategies, some of which have potential for cost recovery or additional revenue for the City.

City of Seattle Anti-Litter Efforts - Highlights

Seattle Public Utilities Revenue Cycle Audit - Wastewater: Internal Controls Review

April 11, 2011

Focus: Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) provides wastewater services to residential and commercial customers. SPU bills customers for wastewater services and in 2009 collected about $187 million for providing these services. While SPU collects customer wastewater, King County conveys and processes the City’s wastewater at the County’s treatment plants and SPU pays King County for these services. Our office evaluated the internal controls governing the charging and collecting of fees for SPU’s wastewater services. We also evaluated the controls over the outsourced services provided by King County, especially controls related to service fees/rates and contracts.

Results: Overall, we found that SPU had adequate internal controls for charging and collecting wastewater services fees. However, controls are not adequate over outsourced wastewater processing functions, specifically for vendor contracts and rates. SPU’s wastewater rates are high compared to similar municipalities and this is partly driven by King County’s rates for outsourced sewer processing services. In addition, King County’s methodology for calculating sewer processing rates does not consistently align with a prior non-binding regional agreement or the King County Code’s Wastewater Financial Policies. This results in somewhat higher rates for the majority of Seattle ratepayers. We also found that significant control improvements are needed in construction site dewatering billing and volume tracking, sewer submeter monitoring and accuracy verification, and collection of delinquent inactive tenant accounts. We have discussed each issue with SPU management and they have committed to taking corrective action on everything within their power to do so. We will follow up regularly on SPU's progress with implementing these corrective actions.

Addressing Crime and Disorder in Seattle's "Hot Spots": What Works?

March 29, 2011

At the request of Seattle City Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen, our office initiated audits to examine how well the City is currently addressing two types of physical disorder: graffiti and litter. Our work on graffiti and litter led us to a growing body of research evidence in the field of criminology that suggests that efforts focused on very small (e.g., one city block), discrete "hot spots" of crime and disorder can be effective in reducing crime and disorder in those areas. Further, this research shows that, rather than displacing the crime and disorder to adjacent areas, nearby areas often also benefit from the hot spot efforts.

In this paper, we:

  • Summarize the latest criminology research regarding hot spots of crime and disorder in Seattle;
  • Describe efforts in other jurisdictions that have demonstrated, through outcome data and evaluation, evidence of success in reducing crime; and
  • Recommend steps, based on research evidence, for how Seattle might bring about positive community change in its hot spots of crime and disorder.