From the week of October 19

Crossing the Line

Border patrol: The Amy Silverman article on Proposition 106, the independent redistricting commission initiative ("What's My Line?" October 5), beautifully made the point that incumbent members of the Legislature are so conflicted by their own desires to be reelected that they cannot create fair district lines. In the states with truly independent redistricting commissions, the district lines are sensible and competitive. Half the state Senate seats went uncontested in Arizona in 1998 because the districts are so wildly configured to favor the incumbents.

Proposition 106 will inject fairness into Arizona's elections. That's why it has the support of Republicans including Grant Woods and Sue Gerard, and independents and Democrats like Eddie Basha and Pete Rios.

The incumbents hate Proposition 106, as Amy Silverman's article described, but that alone should be reason for the rest of us to give it two thumbs up.

Dennis Burke, executive director
Arizona Common Cause

Splitting the difference: Amy Silverman did an excellent job of describing what a bloody mess redistricting has been in Arizona and laying out the reasons for reform of the process.

Unfortunately, the article did not spell out the citizens' aspect of Proposition 106, the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative. Proposition 106 was conceived and written by members of the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. We studied the best processes used around the country, consulted the best experts in Arizona, and drafted an initiative that is best for Arizona. It is unfair to Jim Pederson, campaign chair, to paint the initiative as an attempt by one man to impose his will on the people.

Most of the measures on the November ballot were placed there by the Legislature, unable to make its own tough decisions. Other measures were placed there by narrow special interest groups. Only three come from community groups.

Proposition 106 is the one that will fundamentally improve Arizona politics -- making it fairer for every candidate, every party and every citizen. A diverse group of politicians, citizens and organizations recognizes this and is supporting the campaign. The tent for this most important reform should be a big one. It is.

Ann Eschinger, president
League of Women Voters of Arizona

Line dance: Thanks to Amy Silverman for an in-depth yet very coherent look at Proposition 106. The accounts of legislators of the past actively and seemingly capriciously manipulating district boundaries was alternately amusing and disturbing. However, one question wasn't answered. If (as Republican legislator Sue Gerard said) any arguments against the "fair districts" measure would be "transparent or hollow, or make you look like a damn fool," why are some Republicans still fighting? Just to gather more like-partisaned voters? Shortsightedly lame.

Elbridge Gerry would be pleased that self-serving politics (of which his name has become partially emblematic) lives on, even though he doesn't!

Scott Hume

Accounting Principles

CPA 101: I read with interest your recent article describing Arthur Andersen's deception and fraud for the benefit of its client and, of course, to maintain its continuing fees ("Half-Baked Bean Counters," Terry Greene Sterling, October 5). Based on my 35 years as a management consultant, 12 of which were spent with three different major public accounting firms, I am never surprised when I read these reports. The quote from AA's partner stating "we believe we took appropriate action and followed our professional guidelines . . . ," I have heard many times describing audit reports that were well known to be, at best, erroneous, and, at worst, phony.

What precipitates these situations, which appear to be increasing in frequency and severity? Honest mistakes are made, and mistakes are not malpractice. The real public accounting malpractice stems from the overriding importance in the public accounting firms of retaining the almost guaranteed annual fee income/profit generated by performing the audit (known in the trade as the "audit annuity"). This focus on retaining the audit fees at all costs generates the massive damage awards we read about frequently and eventually even drives accounting firms out of business.

Accounting firms sometimes write the audit report to make the client's financials look good despite the facts. This scam includes classifying material weaknesses as immaterial, including assets on the balance sheet that don't exist, and failing to objectively and completely document negative "going concern" issues like product quality problems and R&D failures.

This problem cannot be solved as long as clients select the auditor and pay the audit fees. The public is at the mercy of the ethics of each firm and of each partner and associate in the firm. And, based on many recent press articles and my own experience, the weakness of these ethics on the part of many in the profession is well reported and recognized.

Another issue is the objectivity and professionalism of consulting work done for clients. Clients should recognize that a consulting report prepared by the audit firm's consulting group is going to be a "good news" document containing nothing that would upset the client or in any way jeopardize the all-important audit fees. The client will be told what he wants to hear -- not what he needs to know. The client must be kept happy so that the audit fees will continue year after year. Many times, based on my experience and that of others on the consulting side of the house, consulting findings were changed or deleted from the report by the accounting firm if this information might upset the audit relationship. This action was taken even though everyone involved agreed that the findings were objective, accurate, material and professional. It would be interesting to determine how many consulting projects were undertaken by AA for BFA and the fees associated with these projects.

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