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Archive for Friday, May 12, 2006

Commission likes auditor concept

May 12, 2006

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When Mark Funkhouser learned only 18 percent of Kansas City, Mo., residents were satisfied with the city's sidewalks, he did what City Council members pay him to do: He investigated.

Then he told council members - in unvarnished and blunt terms - what he found.

"We basically had chaos," Funkhouser said. "We can build a downtown arena quicker than we can fix a sidewalk."

Kind of tough talk to tell your bosses, but that's what Funkhouser does as chief auditor for the city of Kansas City, Mo.

"I don't do implied criticism. I do real criticism," Funkhouser said. "If I think something is wrong, I just say it is wrong."

On Thursday, Lawrence city commissioners said they wanted somebody like Funkhouser on their staff by next year. After Funkhouser spoke at a Thursday morning study session, commissioners said they thought now was the right time for the city to have its first full-time auditor.

"I just feel like our staff doesn't always have the time while they're scrambling to provide services on a day-to-day basis to step back and assess whether we're doing this in the most efficient and effective manner possible," City Commissioner Mike Rundle said.

City commissioners each year hire an outside auditor to review the city's financial statements to ensure they are accurate and within the law. This auditor position, though, would be different. The new city position would focus on specific projects or issues and would look at a project's performance rather than solely focusing on its financial aspects.

"If the thing works well, I hope that citizens have more trust in the government I work for," Funkhouser said.

Interim City Manager David Corliss told commissioners he's all for the new position.

"This can be an important management tool," Corliss said. "Our department heads are not afraid of being asked questions, as long as it is done in a fair and professional way and they are allowed to participate in the process."

Professional standards

Making sure the auditor isn't seen as the city's chief witch-hunter, though, was a worry for some commissioners.

"We have to work with our professional staff, and I don't want people to think we're setting up a gotcha system," Mayor Mike Amyx said. "That would be my biggest concern."

That's why the city will want to hire someone who is trained and certified to be a professional auditor, said Funkhouser, who has been doing his job for 18 years in Kansas City. He said trained auditors know how to investigate and report on issues professionally.

"There are a lot of rumors that auditors are out to get you," Funkhouser said. "That's not true. I couldn't make much of a career out of nitpicking and playing gotcha. There's not much future in that."

Instead, Funkhouser said most of his audits fall into two broad categories. There are the "lurking demon" audits that attempt to identify issues that likely will jump up and bite city leaders in the future. And then there are "fat rabbit" audits that attempt to identify bloated or inefficient programs.

City commissioners haven't started a list for a new Lawrence auditor to begin investigating, but ideas mentioned included whether city infrastructure is being properly financed, whether curbs and gutters are lasting as long as they should and whether the city is using proper techniques in making financial projections.

No cost estimate

Corliss said he didn't yet have estimates on how much a city auditor department would cost. Funkhouser makes about $140,000 per year, he said, but oversees a staff of 15 people.

Corliss said city commissioners will need to make several decisions before officially creating the position. A major one is deciding who would supervise the auditor. Funkhouser said the city could create a system where the auditor reports directly to the city commission or one that reports to the city manager.

Both systems likely would work in Lawrence, Funkhouser said, as long as the city gives the auditor position the power it needs.

"The auditor needs to be able to go wherever he needs to go," Funkhouser said. "If that means you need to go into the Police Department's evidence room, then that's what you need to do. And you need to have unrestricted access to employees. You need to be able to talk to everybody."

Funkhouser said he chose about two-thirds of the roughly 15 new audits per year that his department does. The other third are ones ordered by the City Council. In addition to auditing city departments, Funkhouser also has the authority to audit the roughly 140 outside agencies that receive city funding.

Comments

Rationalanimal 8 years, 7 months ago

Great, an in-house auditor that can be fired by the commissioners (ask Mike Wildgen how that works out). I'm sure the reports will be very objective and untainted by influences within the City's power elite.

Ken Miller 8 years, 7 months ago

Funkhouser is Kansas City's "Rasputin." Several Councilpeople have tried over the years to reduce his power or fire him, but he still survives. He must be doing something right.

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 7 months ago

sounds like a good idea but this city would some how screw it up

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