Nearly a week removed from an audit presentation that revealed more than a decade’s worth of weakness in the city of Killeen’s financial management, City Manager Ron Olson intends to use the results to chart a financially sound path for his administration.
Olson was brought on with the city in February following a scramble by the City Council to find a manager with enough experience to right the ship after budget concerns and resident mistrust left the enterprise’s image in tatters.
Almost immediately, Olson undertook a number of initiatives — informed by his 37 years of management experience — to make the budget process more transparent to the public, provide more information for the council and get a hold of a spending plan that threatened to spiral out of control due to factors internal and external.
On Aug. 5, Olson accomplished step one: A balanced fiscal year 2018 preliminary budget that was a far cry from the famed $8 million projected shortfall in the budget of a year before.
The city’s management audit, which was approved at a cost of $394,000 by the council in March and officially ended Tuesday, is the next logical step in Olson’s rebuilding plan — a treasure trove of 26 financial policy recommendations that provide a logical path forward for Olson to completely overhaul the city’s financial policy structure.
With the city’s next major milestone directly ahead — the council’s budget approval vote Sept. 19 — Olson is already greasing the wheels to join his vision of the future with the results of the long-awaited, taxpayer-funded investigation.
Olson said Friday the audit recommendations would be incorporated into two future initiatives: a “policy calendar” for the council and a citywide business plan that will provide the blueprint for the administration’s tasks moving forward.
Olson said the city of Killeen, like most cities he could recall, was fundamentally flimsy on policy framework — an observation reflected through most of Houston-based McConnell & Jones’s recommendations from the audit.
“We and virtually every other city I know of are weak when it comes to governing policy,” Olson said. “It’s an oxymoron because the primary job of a City Council is to adopt policy, and yet you can go to just about any city and say ‘show me your policy book,’ and they don’t have one.”
To change that, Olson said he and his staff would put together a list of needed financial decision-making policies for the council to review and assign priority. After a period of review and discussion, the council would list the policies by need and direct staff to draft the appropriate language.
“Policy is hard,” Olson said. “It’s hard work, and people don’t know how to do it. It’s taken me 40 years to figure it out.”
Olson also plans to incorporate the audit’s findings into a business plan, or departmental “to-do” list. Olson said a previous iteration of his business plan used during his city manager stint in Corpus Christi incorporated more than 10,000 items.
In Killeen, Olson said he expects a list just as long.
“When we look across the enterprise, every department has multiple functions, those functions have a mission, (and) they have mission elements,” Olson said. “They will now get actions and tasks, a responsible person and a deadline. The recommendations for the audit will go into that system as well as everything else we have to do.”
According to the city management response to the audit results Tuesday, Olson and his staff didn’t agree with every finding and recommendation from the firm.
The most glaring example was in the investigation of the city’s roadway ownership policy, in which Olson argued the firm provided at first glance unrealistic recommendations for a long-term road annexation plan.
The audit investigated the city’s policy for annexing county roads and paying for infrastructure improvements and repairs on those roads. One of the recommendations said the city could create a plan to predict and execute the annexation of roadways.
“I don’t want to dismiss their findings, but ... I don’t know how you plan for that when it’s the private sector that comes in and says ‘guess what, we’d look to do a development, and we’d like to annex that,’” Olson said. “You can’t see it coming until they walk through your door, most of the time. It’s hard to see right now how that part of their recommendation is going to really function for us.”
However, Olson highlighted the city needed to work on more thoroughly analyzing its relationship to private development, including reworking its cost/benefit projection analyses for “city/owner agreements” through which the city and a developer agree to oversize residential development infrastructure to meet future city needs.
“Their general observation applies here, too, that is that the way things are presented to the City Council needs to be very, very clear,” Olson said.
One of the ancillary goals of the audit was to improve transparency and patch a strained relationship between Killeen residents and the city government.
Olson thinks the audit helped accomplish that.
To provide further transparency, Olson outlined a plan to improve the visibility of City Council meetings by video taping every meeting and workshop and also recording other commissions such as the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. City meeting minutes and audio recordings can currently be viewed on the city’s website at killeentexas.gov.
Olson also said he planned to institute community engagement meetings with the public to give department heads a chance to answer resident questions directly.
More importantly, Olson said he wants to create an “audit trail” of policies and decisions so future administrations and councils would have as much information as possible about why past decisions were made.
“The takeaways for me going forward are we need to make sure our staff reports are thorough so that in 10 years, when somebody else comes in to audit what we did, there’s evidence that we had the discussion and what was said to the city council,” Olson said.
“It’s a transparency issue for me.”
Go to http://bit.ly/2wGmoEC to read the firm’s final report, see http://bit.ly/killeenfinances for more articles on how municipal government impacts you, and check out http://bit.ly/managementaudit for continuing coverage of the investigative audit's results.