By Hailey Persinger
Killeen Daily Herald
For the first time, the city of Killeen has adopted an official policy to hold its employees to higher ethical standards.
City Council members adopted ethics and fraud policies Tuesday, but passage of those policies was met with resistance from some council members who had concerns that its wording would allow the city manager to investigate council members for unethical practices.
"(The) specific concern was that (we) didn't want the city manager to be in a place where he governs over the city council because the city council ultimately hired him," Councilwoman JoAnn Purser said.
The policy outlines ethical practices for "city employees," which led council members Juan Rivera, JoAnn Purser and Kenny Wells to question whether council members also qualified as employees of the city.
Though they receive a monthly $50 check and are considered part-time city workers by the Internal Revenue Service, City Manager Connie Green said council members are not recognized as employees by the city itself. This leaves them out of the policies adopted Tuesday but doesn't mean council members are allowed leeway when it comes to ethics and fraud.
"There is no way I can investigate the council," Green said, "but I do want the city employees to reach for that higher standard."
That standard was a long time coming.
During this year's legislative session, state officials passed a bill that requires all metropolitan planning organizations to adopt an ethics policy. Though Killeen is not considered to be one, it is a member of the Killeen-Temple Urban Transportation Study, which falls into the planning organization category. The city's affiliation with the organization prompted its human resource and internal auditing departments to draft the policy.
"It has been recommended by our external auditors that we have an ethics policy put in place," said Amanda Wallace, Killeen's internal auditor. "It poses an attitude of transparency for the city."
At the end of the last fiscal year in September 2008, independent auditors brought up the city's lack of outlined and approved ethical standards. Though the city was not penalized, Green said that had the city continued without one, it could have missed out on federal and state grants.
The absence of clear-cut policies also could have allowed for fraudulent and unethical practices without a solid plan for the consequences.
Green said several investigations conducted in past years have dredged up plans to misuse taxpayer money or engage in unethical practices. Though auditors caught them soon enough, Green said the new policies will give the city auditor an advantage when it comes to keeping employees accountable.
"Good policies prevent bad things from happening," he said.
Contact Hailey Persinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.