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Letters to the Editor 

Week of July 3,2002

Comments
Balancing the Account

The controller responds: As I told your reporter, I was not going to interrupt my work on the city's budget to respond to your four-page list of 36 questions related to the city and KPMG. Now that the Board [of Supervisors'] Budget Committee completed its work, I have some comments on your article ("Sleeping With the Auditor," June 26).

The FAMIS system: As you noted in your report, the FAMIS accounting system was chosen from a competitive bid process in 1994. It allowed us to change from a centralized, batch process to a distributed, online, real-time system, which saved the city millions of dollars and allowed our vendors, including many nonprofit service providers, to be paid more quickly.

Does it do all the things we would like? No, but I'm not sure any system would. Why don't we replace it? Well, among other reasons it would cost more than $10 million to do so in a time when we are threatened with cuts to our public health system. The technology budget for this year is being used to automate still manual processes and replace much older systems in human resources, public safety, and tax collection -- I can hardly put my relatively new system ahead of these other important areas.

And FAMIS does everything required of a governmental financial accounting system. It is the system currently in place in more than 50 major local governments in the U.S.

And you failed to note that the FAMIS system is no longer owned by KPMG.

KPMG auditors: The city selects its auditors typically every five years through a competitive process. We intentionally separated the audit work into 11 parts so small and medium-size firms could get part of the business. There are now eight audit firms issuing our financial statements.

To avoid any conflict, the audit of the controller is actually budgeted in the Board of Supervisors budget, and they select the auditors -- I don't. Under the charter, the board has an Audit Committee which has a direct line of communication with the auditors.

I am quite comfortable that our relationship with our auditors is fully independent and could withstand scrutiny by any professional or reputable agency.

Controller's staff: Your reporter says that I "insulated" myself by "requiring" my staff to sign off on invoices and other items. That is truly insulting to the long-term, trusted managers in my office to whom I have delegated authority to handle these and many other activities. As the controller, I expect some level of your type of reporting. Subjecting my staff to it is not OK.

Expenses: Your reporter noted he had found bills for what he considered to be extravagant expenses which exceed the per diem amount in our agreement with KPMG. I should note that no expenses are allowed on the audit contracts -- only on consulting. We typically collect all of the expense receipts to see actual spending -- but we limit our meals and lodging reimbursement to the federally approved per diem amount. If your reporter had looked at the cover sheet on these invoices he would have noted the per diem limits in effect. However, other city agencies use KPMG's services under our master contract. As with all other distributed processes, we do not pre-audit invoices approved by other agencies. Your sidebar mentioned a number of billings related to a project done for Muni. We are now reviewing those invoices -- should anything exceed contractual limits, future billings will be corrected to recover funds.

My involvement with KPMG: From 1980 to 1984 I worked for Peat Marwick -- a predecessor firm to KPMG LLP. I have not had a professional or financial involvement with KPMG LLP in over 18 years.

Again, I believe the city's relationship with its auditors has met and continues to meet all ethical and professional standards.

Edward M. Harrington
Controller
San Francisco

Peter Byrne responds: Although KPMG Consulting recently sold the FAMIS trademark, the firm's contract to maintain and upgrade San Francisco's FAMIS system runs through at least June 30, 2003.

Copies of KPMG Consulting's expense reports cited in the story show that the expenses were fully approved for reimbursement by Evangeline Bruce, director of the Accounting Operations and Systems Division at the Controller's Office.

Director's Cut

A bad Sayles job: Can it be that your movie critic doesn't know who John Sayles is? I can't imagine reviewing a new John Sayles movie (Sunshine State, Film Capsules, June 26) and not mentioning that it is a new John Sayles movie. I would go to see a John Sayles movie without knowing anything else about it. And describing it as "Altman-esque" for combining different story threads is a little insulting, as Sayles does that very well on his own.

John Swanda
Richmond District

Privates Lesson

Real drag: In order to be a drag queen, one positively must have the following two attributes: 1) an overstimulated sense of how to accessorize, and 2) a penis. Mink Stole, talented actress that she is, does not possess either of these things (Night & Day, June 12, which previewed the play Sleeping With Straight Men, starring Stole). Thus, she cannot be a drag queen. Divine was a drag queen. Ricki Lake was not a drag queen. RuPaul is a drag queen. John Paul II is not a drag queen. (He has been seen in public wearing white between Labor Day and Easter. Not done.) Patrick Swayze played a drag queen. Uncle Miltie did not (see requirement No. 1 above). Is that clear? Good. See that it doesn't happen again.

Dirk Burns
Corona Heights

Prose and Cons

Prison is hard: I felt sad for the inmate [Eddy] Zheng who went in front of the [parole] board and asked for forgiveness and seems to have done his time and really done good for himself ("Throwing Away the Key," June 5). Why do they keep him there? He seems to be ready for the outside. Prison never does anyone any good. All it does if you have served your time is make you harder, and you get down on yourself. Why do they do this? Pray for him.

Donna Will
Garden Grove

Prison is easy: The unimaginable fear and degradation felt by the family victimized by Eddy Zheng and his cohorts is far more heinous than Zheng realizes; in his own words, he feels more unjustly treated by the legal system, far from properly contrite.

For what the trio did, they deserve to lose at least their youth, not returning to society until well into middle age -- at least another decade -- and for what was done to the mother, charges of sex crimes are also appropriate. In light of their foreign-born status and the criminal severity, deportation should be seriously considered.

Zheng's positive behavior in prison isn't so surprising; I know personally of many who have done far more contributing to society who don't get or expect praise, so why should he get bonus points? Quite simply, part of his being your cause célèbre is based on Zheng being Asian and an immigrant.

Why are prisoners allowed to obtain college degrees? College educations for convicts, like elaborate gym equipment, are, in effect, rewards for landing behind bars, and when you add conjugal visits, special diets, telephone access, etc., there is less incentive to avoid a return engagement.

George Warren
Alameda

More Meat

A simple solution: Please ignore Gregory Wu ("Cartoon Corner," Letters, June 12). Red Meat is good. It almost always makes me smile. I'm sorry Greg and his friends don't get it, OK? But if Greg don't like it, Greg don't gotta read it. So there!

Forest Huggins
Inner Sunset

We're Honored

SF Weekly was awarded five first-place honors and one second-place award in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest June 29 in San Diego. The paper took first place among California weeklies for its arts and lifestyle coverage and for page design. Weekly staff writer Peter Byrne won first place in investigative reporting for "Dirty Pool" (Aug. 8, 2001), a story about how the city's revitalization of a Bayview community pool was fraught with cost overruns. Silke Tudor won first place in the writing category for "Railroaded" (Oct. 31, 2001), a Night Crawler column about modern-day hobos. And Lisa Davis, also a staff writer, took first in the public service category for "Fallout" (May 2 and 9, 2001), a series documenting how the Navy underreported the amount of nuclear waste generated at Hunters Point Shipyard. (All of these stories can be read online at www.sfweekly.com.)

The San Francisco Bay Guardian won two first-place and four second-place awards in the weekly category. Among large daily newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle was awarded three first-place awards, including one for feature writing, and five second-place awards.

Contest winners were chosen from more than 3,000 entries submitted in various categories by 228 newspapers in California.

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