County Council chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said this week he will ask the county auditor to give the council a draft of any future management audits before making the final versions available to the public.
In the past, the county auditor -- who is an employee of the council -- made his report public at the same time he submitted it tothe council. That practice is common among several other county auditors in the state, according to the county's lawyers.
Gray had asked the county's chief legal officer for advice on whether the county was required to let the public review the auditor's management reports and was told this month that it was.
"We are notaware of any provisions in the law that expressly require or permit you to deny inspection of a management audit report," County Solicitor Barbara M. Cook wrote to Gray.
However, some of that information"may or may not contain information that may be withheld" under the state's Public Information Act, Cook said. She said she was aware of two exceptions -- personnel records and intra- or inter-agency memorandums.
The county shall keep from the audit the "personnel record of an individual, including an application, performance rating, or scholastic achievement information," Cook told Gray.
She told Gray that while management audit reports "rarely contain information about specific individuals," the reports should be still be reviewed beforebeing released to determine if they contain personnel information. She said her staff would be willing to assist the auditor in that review.
The intra- or inter-agency memorandums exception also requires"care," Cook said, because that part of the law can used "only if the custodian (in this case, the auditor) believes that inspection would be contrary to the public interest."
It is "the very nature of (the auditor's duties) to make independent analyses and recommendations," Cook said.
Other local governments "routinely make similar reports available to the public without excising the auditor's opinions or recommendations," Cook wrote.
Gray sought the legal opinion about public inspection of the audit reports after a Howard County Sun article last October quoted the auditor as saying that many animal wardens believe "they may be placed in dangerous situations without the proper training."
The audit report said the wardens wanted the county to provide handguns, tranquilizer guns, customized vans, and two-way headsets for their protection.
The auditor recommended the wardens be given everything but the handguns. The county replied that itwould supply the vans and the headsets, but not the tranquilizer guns.
The audit report did not name the wardens or their boss, TahiraWilliams.
But Gray saw that as too much of an invasion of privacy. He said publication of what he called the "stun gun" issue was in reality a private squabble that should not have been made public.
To avoid future publication of what he considers personnel matters or memorandums not in the public interest, Gray said he will require theauditor to present the council a draft prior to final preparation ofthe audit.