Montgomery County auditors recently found employees with both hands in taxpayers' wallets. They took paid vacation days, then reported to work anyway and earned overtime in the voting office.
Northampton and Lehigh county auditors have found bloated vehicle fleets, missing money and dead and ineligible employees enrolled for health benefits.
Notice I didn't mention what audits turned up in Allentown?
You figure there must be some unnecessary spending going on in a city that was on the verge of bankruptcy a few years ago and where dollars remain precious.
There's no way to know because the city controller does little formal auditing on the scale done by controllers in some other area governments, primarily counties.
New Controller William Hoffman, in office for eight months, says he is itching to get more aggressive, but doesn't believe he has the authority to dig too deep.
It's time for City Council or the voters to change that. Both have the power.
What's stopping it? The city's home rule charter and reluctant administrators, both of which can be overcome.
Allentown's charter gives the controller oversight of city finances, which allows Hoffman to check dollars and cents. He balances bank accounts and credit-card bills, reviews payments and contracts and has audited petty cash. While not even close to the level of other government auditing, the bookkeeping provides a broad sense of where money is going and whether it's legit.
Hoffman wants to do more, through performance or operational audits. They explore whether programs work and offices are efficient, and often occur in tandem with fiscal reviews.
Think of it as auditing common sense in addition to dollars and cents.
Allentown's charter doesn't say if the controller can do that type of auditing. Hoffman asked to do it. City lawyers said no, just as they told prior Controller Frank Concannon.
Lawyers say operations are the mayor's prerogative and the controller can't second-guess him or her.
That might be what the charter says, but that's bad government.
If the controller can't second-guess, who can? Isn't that his role?
Operational audits by other governments have uncovered potential abuse of sick time; employees doing personal favors for their bosses while on the clock; and poor accounting systems that could allow crafty employees to steal.
Cabinet members of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski agree operational reviews are essential. But they don't think the controller should do them. They say it's their job because the controller's office doesn't have the skills to analyze technical matters.
Managing Director Francis Dougherty and Finance Director Larry Hilliard said administrators do lots of checks that have saved taxpayer dollars. They have hired consultants to study operating efficiency, resulting in a better permitting process and a new police patrol plan.
But audits by the controller would provide surprise checks by an independently elected office with no political stake in the outcome, other than to save taxpayers cash and get re-elected.
Much of what Pawlowski's administration does is done literally behind locked doors. Not all findings are publicly announced.
A controller publicly announcing audit results and putting reports online, as other governments do, would pressure administrators to fix flaws. If no flaws are found, it would assure taxpayers things are fine.
A consultant is studying the anti-crime Weed and Seed program. I asked Hoffman for the contract. He said it was incomplete. An audit could determine how frequently work occurs without a contract, and the associated risks.
The city garage has been in private hands for several years, and the contract's up. An audit could show whether repairs were faster and cheaper than when city workers ran things.
There is some precedent for the controller to look at operations. Under longtime Controller Louis Hershman, some phone lines were dropped after he said the city had too many. Gas pumps were reopened downtown after he pointed out that police had to leave districts to fuel up.
Hershman said no one challenged his authority to make such suggestions.
But the only way the controller can formally get power to aggressively audit is to amend the charter.
That's onerous because it requires a public vote. Council must schedule it, or 2,000 residents must sign a petition to put a question on an election ballot.
Previous councils tried twice, passing legislation in 2003 and 2004 to ask voters if the controller should do performance audits.
Former Mayor Roy Afflerbach vetoed both. Weak councils backed down.
It's time for this new, more aggressive council to show its commitment to good government.
If not, you taxpayers who grumble about government must step up.
The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 610-841-2364 (ADOG), by fax at 610-820-6693, or by mail at The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, Pa., 18101.