Archive for Sunday, June 18, 2017

Most Lawrence city commissioners undecided regarding elimination of city auditor

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

June 18, 2017

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The decision of whether the City of Lawrence will keep an auditor on staff likely won’t come easily.

The City Commission has said it will discuss whether the city auditor should be eliminated at its meeting next week, and most commissioners said they are still undecided.

Vice Mayor Stuart Boley, himself a retired auditor, said he is supporting the recommendation to cut the position. The possibility of eliminating the auditor has drawn some public criticism, but Boley said he thinks a lot of those arguments have been theoretical.

“The proponents of keeping the auditor will probably need to provide a practical justification for that decision,” Boley said.

Can we live without it?

City Manager Tom Markus released his recommended budget May 4, which proposes eliminating 11 positions, including the city auditor. Markus recommended eliminating that position as part of the 2017 budget, but commissioners ultimately agreed to keep it.

The auditor is a performance auditor, as opposed to a financial one, and evaluates city programs. Markus told commissioners at their most recent meeting that there are alternatives to the current method, such as hiring an outside audit.

“To me, the advantage of that is you hire somebody that has the specific acumen to address an issue in greater detail immediately,” Markus said. “I’m not afraid of audits; I thinks there’s real value.”

Last month, the city hired an auditor to investigate concerns that the city’s accounts receivables department has not properly been sending out thousands of dollars worth of invoices for several years. Markus said that audit is one example and also noted that nationally, it’s uncommon for local governments to keep a performance auditor on staff.

“So, I start there,” Markus said. “Can we live without it? My belief is we can.”

Structure of the position

Currently, the auditor falls under the direction of the City Commission.

City Commissioner Matthew Herbert said that he’s undecided on the choice, but that if the position is kept, the way it operates must change. Herbert said that because the commission works part time, the auditor lacks supervision.

“You have a City Commission that largely is not at City Hall from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday,” Herbert said. “So you have a city auditor that supposedly is reporting to people that very rarely are in the building. It’s my opinion that the current position has essentially no supervision.”

The auditor brings performance reports to the commission with recommendations for improvement. Over the years, the auditor has found several issues, including missing payments. The auditor, Michael Eglinski said he thinks the position could be improved by creating an audit committee.

Eglinski said a committee would provide oversight of the audit as well as follow-up, advice and evaluation. He said he thinks it would enhance the independence and effectiveness of audits.

“It brings more time to be available for the conversation about the audit,” Eglinski said. “Right now they’re going to the commission typically 10:30 at night, at the end of a long meeting. And they’re not going to spend an hour and half talking about issues related to an audit and asking questions.”

The recommended budget includes a 1.25 mill levy increase, and commissioners have already agreed they don’t want to go above that. That means that keeping the auditor position — which will cost the city $130,000 in 2018 — will require reductions elsewhere.

Herbert said he agrees an audit committee could address the issues with the structure of the position, but that the commission needs to face the reality that if the position is kept it will mean cuts elsewhere. Herbert also said having the auditor on staff while also hiring outside financial auditors is essentially “paying twice.”

“Anytime we want specific information from a source that has expertise in that arena, we’re going out and hiring it,” Herbert said. “To me, in terms of being smart with city finances we really ought to start doing one or the other.”

Pay for an independent viewpoint

Of the 11 positions Markus is proposing to eliminate, the city auditor position is the only one that is filled. The position was created by a city ordinance, and designed to be under the direction of the commission.

Eglinski said that he thinks the decision regarding the position should be made separately from a budget conversation. He said the purpose of the position is to have an auditor independent from city staff.

“I think that there are different products,” Eglinski said. “A report that the finance department hires a CPA to look at is different than a report that the governing body directs their auditor to look at.”

But Boley said he doesn’t think that eliminating the auditor will create any gap in oversight. Boley also noted the city has hired outside auditing firms, and that it also contracts with a firm to do an annual financial audit.

“This perception that if we don’t have a performance auditor we won’t have any financial accountability and there will be no check on the city manager, I think, is fallacious,” Boley said.

Waiting to hear more

Commissioner Lisa Larsen, who is also undecided, said she has some questions about the need for conducting multiple kinds of audits. She said she wants to make sure all audits are truly independent.

“I want to look at how we’re doing all of our audits right now,” Larsen said. “Where is the need at and what’s going to be more efficient and effective for us to get the best we can get?”

Larsen also said she wants to hear what city staff and the public has to say on the topic.

“I’m not ready to make the decision on it until I hear more and get some more answers and fully understand the potential ramifications,” Larsen said.

Both Commissioner Mike Amyx and Mayor Leslie Soden indicated they don’t have much to say ahead of Tuesday. Soden said she is looking forward to the discussion, but said she couldn’t say which way she is leaning at this point.

“I think it’d be really good to have the auditor there and all five commissioners discussing the issue,” Soden said.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

Comments

Paul Silkiner 2 months ago

Commissioners.........it is time to be a responsible part of government and accept outside independent audits!

"Last month, the city hired an auditor to investigate concerns that the city’s accounts receivables department has not properly been sending out thousands of dollars worth of invoices for several years. Markus said that audit is one example and also noted that nationally, it’s uncommon for local governments to keep a performance auditor on staff."

I rest my case.............

Kevin Kelly 2 months ago

No to the $300,000.00 tunnel for KU at 19th and Iowa paid for by the City. Can we live without it?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 months ago

I certainly think the city commissioners need an auditor. And more. This group that seems to find no problem with building sidewalks on both sides of every roadway in the county and into the woods to nowhere are fools. Then they expect citizens nearby to maintain this stupid foolishness.

The dual intersection at Haskell and31st street that approaches from the south into a blind corner at the top of the hill with no warning signs or speed reduction is a horrible hazard. Where do we get these fools we elect to conduct city business with some degree of knowledge and accountability??

David Holroyd 2 months ago

You have to love the drama between Mr. Kidney, Mr Markus and the Mr. Eglinski and the five commissioners as well as past ones.

The question the Journal World refuses to ask of the commissioners now and past: What did you do as a commssioner when Mr. Eglinski brought to you information?

What did Mr Corliss do?

So, that said, Mr. Amyx was on the commission when Mr. Eglinski was hired. Does Mr. Amyx care to answer the question?

And now, that the "outside" auditor found sums of money not accounted for,,,we have yet to read if the current commissioners are going about their business to collect the monies? Apparently not! Why not?

Deborah Snyder 2 months ago

The city was missing payments in accounts receivables for years, and no independent annual audit done by outside agencies during those years ever found this massive and expensive error!

No fiscally responsible argument can be made to change this fact. While most sensible people would agree that you fix the communication problem between the auditor and the commission, you cannot possibly argue that there have NOT been verifiable, authentic and beneficial results due solely to Mr. Iglinski's work!

The commission risks 'cutting off its nose to spite its face.'

Fix the oversight and communication issues identified with this position. There are plenty of qualified local residents young and old who would readily volunteer to be on an oversight committee.

Are you seriously not going to perform due diligence in making sure you took reasonable measures to fix these smaller issues before you 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'?!?

Commissioners give themselves a critical layer of visible, taxpayer accountability (no pun intended) with this position, ESPECIALLY when you propose tax hikes to meet controversial needs (vs. wants)!

You are 'shooting yourselves in the foot,' politically if you vote to eliminate this position. You are inviting distrust by even considering it.

Richard Quinlan 2 months ago

The commissioners auditor is playing peter against paul while running his own PR. Time for him to b gone .

David Holroyd 2 months ago

The commissioners will comply with Mr Markus...its easier that way!

Michael Kort 2 months ago

A good thief can hide their theft for years and figure ways around auditors and " supervisory others " as Farmer did ( it took the IRS to notice his thefts ) for a while .

If they decide to hire an outside auditor just make sure to frequently change auditors so that no one can ever becomes too familiar with cities business and it's ins and outs of people and money ( sarchasm ! ) .

Mr Markus might be a saint but the next person after him might not be there with a halo on their head or an honest song in their heart .

They need an Audit Committee .

Audit Committee members should individually receive the audits directly from the auditor and they should be capable of reading an audit because no one should be made a potential singular fox running a chicken coup of outside auditors ( or put in charge of audit copies that can be altered for distribution by whoever ? )

An outside auditors work can be shredded or altered faster than they can write it and the city can pay for it by a creative thief .

Deborah Snyder 2 months ago

The points you made are valid, Mr. Kort. I hope commissioners read this blog. That position has already paid off its salary in cost savings and organizational improvementsimprovements, not to mention initial discoveries of this latest boondoggle.

Until this commission has given this position the due diligence it deserves, they are playing with a local firestorm of distrust by the taxpayers.

When can anyone in city hall remember the last time so much procedural misbehavior or duplicated, overlapping bureaucratic and financial issues were discovered or "discussed" between city officials and commissioners at this rate over the last several years?!?

I apologize for my vehemence, but this position 'is a no-brainer' for current and future commissioners to rely on for unfiltered feedback on city services and accountability.

Deborah Snyder 2 months ago

City Commisioner Mr. Boley campaigned on his promise to hold city finances and spending accountable to taxpayers. Since he now admits to giving six or seven hours a week to his presence at city hall, how effective can his oversight be?

I have no doubt that Mr. Boley spends many more hours trying to keep up with commission agendas and individual issues brought to his attention. So why would he or anyone else advocate for the elimination of the one employee they have between them and the next financial fiasco to occur on their watch, during a period when state tax incteases will impact everyone and everything the city commission tries to tackle or accomplish in the next two or three years??

At the very least, this commission has accomplished (and is improving) making city services more streamlined and financially accountable because of the independency of its performance auditor. Of Course this will cause some friction and discomfort between the city manager and the commission!

But you Do Not turn around and give conflicting signals about the efficacy of the auditors' position without creating an unnecessary crisis During A Financial Accounting Mess which he initially brought to the city's attention, that y'all have NO idea where or when it ends!!

This is Not The Time to diminish the auditors' credibility, or allow the city administration to get away with ultimatums regarding staff funding cuts. The long-lost revenue owed to the city is NOT the auditors' sacrifice to make!

David Holroyd 2 months ago

Mr. Markus it appears does not consider Mr. Eglinski to be a real audtior.

BUT, Riordan, Chestnut, Amyx, Hack, Farmer, Dever, Boley, Herbert, Amyx again, Soden, and Larsen apparently did when they served and ran as new commissioners.

The bigger question the Journal World has not asked and will not ask is of each of the above commissioners and that is: When Mr. Eglinski brought forth findings what did each of you individuallly or collectively do about those findings?

Mr. Boley if anyone should be able to deciper findings of the audtior especially since the "auditor" works for the commission.

Maybe it is the city commission that needs to go along with the city manager and the Mr. Kidney. btw, Why would Mr. Kidney give up a job at Springsted and come to podunk Lawrence, KS?

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