Thursday, March 04, 2010

Springfield, We Have a Problem

Internal Auditor Position Should be Filled As Soon as Possible and Practical

If City Manager Greg Burris or City Clerk Brenda Cirtin announced today they would be retiring next week, how much time do you believe would pass before the City Council was discussing how they would go about filling the vacant positions?

Why does it seem the City Council's Internal Auditor position is and has been treated as though it is an unimportant, backburner issue? Because, I propose it has been.

I am fully aware that Ms. Lathrom's passing only occurred one week ago this evening, and I do not mean to sound callous but, I am aware that Ms. Lathrom had been on medical leave for many months prior to her passing, and the internal auditor position, although apparently not as *sexy* as the City Manager position, is an extremely important municipal government position.

I first started writing about the internal auditor position when I was still the City Council/City Government "beat writer" for the "Community Free Press." It's been obvious from the outset that the position simply is not valued in the same way the positions of City Manager and City Clerk are valued and yet, the internal auditor position is one of only three positions whose inhabitor answers directly to the City Council and who the City Council is tasked to hire and fire.

While today's Mayor and City Council look with ingenuity (sic) to a future appointment of a Citizens' Sales Tax Oversight Committee, I wonder when they will fill what I have advocated (in my own way) as a vitally important position within City government that has, in it's very short history, been consistently given only minimal thought and value. Such a position, if utilized properly would make a Citizens Sales Tax Oversight Committee a silly and unnecessary prospect.

Before Lathrom was hired, back in January, 2008, there didn't appear to be much consensus among City Council members as to the potential value of an internal auditor. Councilman Doug Burlison said, "This proposed position (internal auditor) is, in fact, the key to any reforms that City Council may enact in response to the audit." But, then Mayor Tom Carlson, in his State of the City Report, said about the position, "(State Auditors) talked about an internal auditor, and we're going to have one of those, and so, I hope everybody's happy, but it's not that big a deal." (Community Free Press Archive edition June 18, 2008, page 1 article, "City Manager vs. Internal Auditor")

Why is it important?

A March 4, "Springfield News-Leader" "Our Voice" editorial column pointed out the City will lose $63,000 in taxpayer money by holding the CIP tax renewal election in June rather than including it in a legally mandated, already existing, April election. The editorial also pointed out that by skipping over the mandated April, 2010 election and opting to put the measure on a June ballot, it will cost OTC an extra (estimated) $32,000 because they are on the ballot alone.

City leaders gave the "News-Leader" a few reasons for holding the election in June rather than April but, admitted they could have prepared for it and put it on the April ballot if they had chosen to do so. In other words, they could have saved the taxpayer and Ozarks Technical Community College about $95,000 in combined funds.

Apparently, Mayor O'Neal didn't know putting the CIP sales tax question on a June ballot was going to cost the City taxpayers $63,000 more than if they had scheduled it for the April ballot. That alone is, to borrow a phrase from KSGF's old radio talk show host Vincent David Jericho, asinine could the Mayor not know that!? Why wasn't he told!? Would an internal auditor have made a difference? I'd like to think so, IF that internal auditor was valued, with his or her services properly utilized.

I hate to keep repeating the same information but, people! In Section 2.15 of the City Charter it describes the "Investigator," or Council's internal auditor:

"The council may appoint an investigator who shall serve for such term as the council may prescribe. He shall be a certified public accountant or a person specially trained and experienced in governmental or business investigation or administration. His duty shall be to keep the council informed as to the work performed, methods, and financial affairs of the city. He shall not be responsible for the keeping of accounts. He shall make such investigations of the work of all departments of the city and such reports to the council as it shall require. He shall make such other investigations as the council may direct. He shall have access to all books and records of all departments of the city. If the council desires, he shall certify to the correctness of any or all financial reports before the same shall be regarded as official."

After April Lathrom was hired, she wrote her own Policies and Procedures. They were adopted by the City Council on November 10, 2008, (see Council Bill 2008-322/Special Ordinance number 25510) but, even as late as March of last year (2009), then Council candidate Nick Ibarra questioned the efficacy and transparency of the internal auditor's position, and also in March, 2009, Councilman Burlison said, "...we do not interact with April enough, however, that is an issue I'd rather attack with 4 or 5 fresh faces. I'm not suggesting that there is any kind of communication problem, I just feel like we are not doing enough of it. If I was April, I think I would want more contact with my bosses, as well."

Today, I heard from Chair of the Finance and Administration Committee Dan Chiles. The Finance and Administration Committee is the Council Committee that was tasked with oversight of the internal auditor. Chiles seems to still have a bit of appreciation for the position that no one, to date, other than the occupant of the position, has taken very seriously at all, that is if we judge by actions instead of words.

"We haven't talked about a replacement for April. There is a hiring freeze, but I will make the case to hire an internal auditor," Chiles wrote in an email response to my query. "We promised the voters we would create and fill that position, so that is what we should do."

I would suggest to the Springfield City Council that you consider the position not as merely something you promised the voters but, rather as an invaluable and essential asset that you cannot function well without. You wouldn't try to do your job without a City Manager. You wouldn't try to do your job without a City Clerk. Why do you undervalue the essential job of the internal auditor?

The internal auditor in Kansas City, Missouri is known as the "City Auditor." His name is Gary White and he has his own Web page.

"Our goal is to conduct audits that answer questions that matter to people outside of City Hall; that enable the city to reduce, avoid or recover costs; and to alert city officials to potential problems that could undermine the public’s trust in City government," the Web page boasts, among other things.

Just including and since November of 2009, KC's City Auditor has filed two audit reports and two survey memos on his Web site. The documents are available to the public and include: Resolution Tracking, This audit was conducted in order to determine whether city staff are implementing resolutions adopted by the City Council; E-Service Systems Security, This audit was conducted in order to determine the security of the City's e-service systems; Fiscal Year 2010 Second Quarter Citizen Satisfaction Survey Results, This memo reports the second quarter results of the Fiscal Year 2010 Citizen Satisfaction Survey and; Fiscal Year 2010 Third Quarter Citizen Satisfaction Survey Results, This memo reports the third quarter results of the Fiscal Year 2010 Citizen Satisfaction Survey.

The Springfield City Council, if it ever decides to take the "investigator" or internal auditor position seriously, will have an invaluable oversight tool for assessing the operations of Springfield City government but, on this account, I'm afraid their eyes will continue to be wide shut.



Anonymous said...

It seems with Mr. Thornsbury of public works, they have already moved some people to "help take over."

I would guess there will then be another, damn internal promotion with little outside competition so everyone in the whole PW department can "move up a step."

What has been the scope of the internal auditor's position so far ? Is everything she does a secret ??

Jackie Melton said...

Anon., for more information about the scope of the internal auditor position you will find the annual audit working plan discussed in Council Bill 2008-322/Special Ordinance number 25510, just click on the link provided in my post and then click on the "scanned" image of the ordinance to read the pdf file. That link did not work when I first clicked on it after posting it but, I have corrected that. :)

Anonymous said...

Despite City governance has danced around the highly condemning
07’ state audit most constituents recall:
“a considerable amount of city funds were spent as a result of poor planning and poor oversight. The city did not have an internal auditor as allowed by city charter, which could have helped in discovering and resolving several areas in the report”. Which is why an internal auditor was implemented. Although City management has been more than content to allow the position to be unattended during Ms. Lathrum’s illness ,as Jackie pointed out temporary personal should have been appointed rather than city funds being spent as a result of poor planning. I think the report released in May was a positive indicator the internal auditor if given free rein to do his/ her job without political persuasion would be a valuable asset to constituents.

tom said...

Hate to do this but I'm calling BS on the mayor. you don't run a multimillion dollar company without knowing there are cost involved in every action you take, likewise you do not run a multimillion dollar in generating tax revenue city without knowing every action has a cost involved. The main purpose to this is to assure a very light voter turnout and to apply pressure to those in government employ to say yes. Action essentially guarantees a victory for the CIP tax thus they can once again proclaim victory without having to break a sweat. The beauty of how government can co-opt a system to assure the sweet taste of victory unlike the agony of defeat if it was held during a higher turnout percentage election period.

Anonymous said...

The Mayor was on the Council for years some time ago, I would think he would have learned at that time what a typical special election costs.

Most of these small elections are carried by the gov. employees, the school and univ. employees who all vote together as a group for each and every tax issue.

I would suppose there is still time to move the tax to the August ballot if they want to show a little bit of conservatism.