Archive for Friday, June 9, 2017

Editorial: Cleaning up a billing mess

Credit is due to the city in trying to get to the bottom of missing payments, but let’s hope it gets all the way to the bottom.

June 9, 2017

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Few things in government are more important than ensuring public servants are responsible and thoughtful stewards of public money. That’s why the discovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing lease payments to the City of Lawrence is so concerning.

And auditors with RSM Global expect the news to get worse before it gets better.

What is known so far is RSM’s initial assessment is that poor recordkeeping, insufficient employee training and a lack of oversight caused payments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to go uncollected by the city.

The audit found that at least 10 leases of either city land or other property have missing billings or payments. The total value of the missing payments isn’t clear, but some of the leases listed are thousands of dollars per year and unsent bills date back several years.

Christina Churchill, an auditor with RSM, expects that the auditors will find more.

Lawrence City Manager Tom Markus ordered the independent audit last month after Riverfront LLC asked for a summary of payments owed to the city. Markus said when staff in the city’s finance department went through the financial records, they discovered there were invoices that were never sent. The city estimated that $287,000 in lease payments weren’t collected, though Riverfront owners dispute that amount.

The audit uncovered more lease payments that weren’t billed. Churchill said high staff turnover and mistakes made when the city went to a new billing system in 2013 contributed to the problem.

Credit the current city administration with being transparent in addressing the billing issues. It appears that the issues pre-date Markus, who became Lawrence city manager in March 2016, and City Finance Director Bryan Kidney, who began his role in February 2015. But it’s their job to clean the mess up and that has to begin immediately. The city can ill afford to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because staff are new and weren’t properly trained.

And almost important as correcting the billing issue is continuing to look for irregularities. If leases went unbilled, unpaid and undetected for years, then it seems likely that more financial errors are likely to have been made.

Markus and his team are to be commended for trying to confront the billing problems head on, but their work is only just beginning. As RSM digs deeper into city records, it’s worrisome to think about what they might find.

Comments

Bob Summers 1 year ago

Few things in government are more important than ensuring public servants are responsible and thoughtful stewards of public money. That’s why the discovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing lease payments to the City of Lawrence is so concerning.

What would these valuable "thoughtful stewards" do in society without other peoples money to pay for their food, shelter, and booze? What would they do without other people paying their healthcare?

Would they be artists? Would they sculpt? Would they compose poems as suggested years ago by Liberal leaders with the onset of Obamacare relieving job lock?

What could these thoughtful stewards of society do without using other peoples money to survive?

Could the rest of us paying for their survival, expect them to be thoughtful stewards of society and pay their own way?

Bonnie Uffman 1 year ago

This problem has been reported by our city auditor on at least three prior occasions. How is it that now it suddenly becomes news?

David Holroyd 1 year ago

Ms. Bonnie, it is news now because Mr. Markus wants to make a name for himself and move on. Also, why hasn't the Journal World with it's top notch reporters interviewed Mr. Corliss as to how the leases were kept track of and likewise who signed them and what about the city commissoners present and past?

DON'T these commissioners ever review anything or ask questions? If not, then did the past rely on what Mr. Corliss told them?

Now, it appears that it is time:

CORLISS/COOLEY ......need to testify

It sure would be nice to see some copies of the leases, it really would.

Ms. Bonnie, the city manager wants total control over an audtior and the current, Mr. Eglinski is responsible to the commission, a present and past commission that apparently has not a clue what to do.

Wouldn't it be pretty simple for the newspaper and staff to place a call to Colorado to Mr. Corliss? It wouldn't be too hard to find Mr. Cooley at McDonald's on 6th street. And if not mistaken, I thought when Mr. Cooley "retired" he still held some position at City Hall. Is that correct or not?

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