Given the billing and record keeping issues that have arisen of late, perhaps the city of Lawrence should elevate — instead of eliminate — the role of city auditor.
Last week, the city reported that an outside audit had revealed that at least 10 city leases had gone unbilled for years, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease payments unpaid. RSM Global, an outside auditor, said poor record keeping, insufficient employee training and a lack of oversight caused payments to go uncollected by the city. To make matters worse, RSM auditors said, they expect to find more problems.
Meanwhile, City Manager Tom Markus, for the second consecutive year, is pushing to eliminate the position of city auditor, an independent position that reports to the City Commission and costs the city about $130,000 per year.
Markus doesn’t see the two issues as connected. He thinks there are more effective ways to evaluate the city’s performance than with a city auditor, and he noted that current auditor Michael Eglinski is a performance auditor, not a financial auditor or certified public accountant. Markus said the missing lease payment billings were identified by the city finance director, not the city auditor.
Markus noted that even if the position is eliminated, the city still must conduct an annual audit using an outside auditor. Eliminating Eglinski’s position would save about $130,000 annually.
But while the city auditor didn’t uncover the missing lease payments, Eglinski has uncovered a number of other items that involve hundreds of thousands of dollars in city payments. Notably, it was Eglinski’s 2013 audit that shed light on the fact that the city went for eight years without receiving a $1.26 million payment from Douglas County for its share of the construction of Fire Station No. 5.
Until city commissioners better understand the depth of the problems with the city’s billing and record keeping systems, it seems prudent to retain a city auditor who reports to the commission. Instead of eliminating the position, commissioners should raise expectations for it by requiring more rigorous and intensive audits across all city departments.