Denver auditor plans to sue city Department of Human Services for lack of transparency

Auditor wants access to human services records

DENVER - In an independent auditor meeting, Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher announced he will sue the city Department of Human Services for a lack of transparency.

Gallagher cited his distress in a news release sent to 7NEWS. He said the office has tried to access basic information from the department without success. One example included auditors being thwarted in the effort to evaluate whether $166,000 in gift cards were appropriately distributed.

However,the  city auditor's office couldn't get Human Services to give them access to records.

"Our access was so limited that our audit team was prevented from getting the necessary information to determine if gift cards bought by the city were even distributed to the people they were intended for -- or what internal controls are in place to ensure the integrity of the program," Gallagher said.

"This is really outrageous, but of more serious concern is what this restriction means to evaluating the core mission of the Department," the auditor said.

During Thursday's meeting, two members of the audit committee also questioned the department's intentions by refusing to hand over records. Committee member Jeffrey Hart told DHS manager Penny May and attorney Barbara Shaklee, "You're hurting one of the most solemn responsibilities that we all have and that's to maintain public trust and confidence in the government."

Shaklee said the department cannot legally hand over confidential information due to federal and state privacy laws.

"It all comes back to public policy and privacy of people...that turns into looking like big organizations trying to keep things private for their own needs," Shaklee said.

Human Services has said they are an arm of the state and only the state can request information. But the auditor's office listed seven other counties both out-of-state and in-state, including Adams County, that allow the auditor access to their record keeping.

Auditor spokesman Clay Vigoda also cited a 2007 City Charter which allows the auditor to have access to all information in city departments, so they can do their job.

"This is the only time we have done anything in the city and county where we have not been able to get records," Vigoda said. "They're basing that on the fact these are not our records."