The Killeen City Council approved an investigation of city finances Tuesday, voting 5 to 2 to hire Houston-based public accounting firm McConnell & Jones.
Work on seven areas of concern will start next week, beginning with a “visioning” meeting to discuss council concerns at the next workshop, City Auditor Matthew Grady said. Firm partner Odysseus Lanier is expected to attend.
The vote passed after more than a half hour of back-and-forth between council members, escalating at one point to Councilman Jim Kilpatrick attempting to address Councilman Jonathan Okray directly, which would have violated meeting rules.
Kilpatrick took issue with Okray’s sharp line of questioning, after asserting there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Okray suggested the council had neither the experience nor certification to say that there was no negligence or criminal wrongdoing responsible for the city’s financial problems, and that is precisely why an investigation is needed.
Council members and residents learned in June that the city was $8 million short in its budget, and had been overspending for years without indications raised of a problem. Residents called for a forensic audit of the city’s finances during problems periods, which according to city data is consistently between fiscal years 2013 to 2016.
The approval Tuesday was for less than the forensic audit sought by residents, but still had to overcome opposition. Councilman Juan Rivera and Kilpatrick voted against it.
“We’re still paying $350,000 for the job that you could have done,” Rivera said to City Auditor Grady. “Why in the world are we going to go ahead and get someone from outside to do your job? Can you explain that to me?”
City memorandums show the actual cost to be $394,456, and would be paid biweekly instead of a lump sum.
Grady responded by saying he was just one person, and that the amount of material to review would take longer than what was acceptable to the council.
“There’s a lot of stuff you wanted to look at, (and) it would take me a while to do it," Grady said. He also referenced issues with independence and credibility if a city employee were to investigate the city.
“Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars for credibility?” Rivera shot back. “All because five or six people are complaining about this? Because that’s all the people complaining, it’s only five or six people.”
Rivera grossly underestimated the number of outraged residents that appeared at City Hall last fall, causing the Council Chambers to swell with so many people that some overflowed to the hallway.
Kilpatrick recommended trusting past councils and administrators at face value, despite recorded delays with financial reports and problems with transparency in the previous administration. He supported his decision against an investigation by citing impromptu, nonscientific polling he conducted by talking to constituents in his voting district.
“In the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to personally talk via person-to-person, phone or email to 162 registered voters in District 3,” he said. “My results show 87 percent do not feel an external audit is a burning issue or is even their No. 1 issue. Ninety-four percent do not believe any money is missing or criminal activity occurred from 2002 to 2016.”
Kilpatrick went on to say that 98 percent want the money spent on a senior center, books or computers for the library, or infrastructure or public safety expenditures.
In a later comment, the councilman said he talked to 164 people.
Kilpatrick led the ad-hoc audit committee, based on direction from the council, to securing a contract with McConnell & Jones, a firm that said it did not recommend a forensic audit.
Young supported an investigation, but did not completely agree with the current plan, which leaves out whole departments and instead deviates from the original request to bidders.
“I find in the community, the people that I talk to, that there is an overwhelming desire to get to the bottom — whatever the answer is,” Young said. “I have no doubt that Mr. Grady could do (an audit), given enough time and given enough resources, but (he has) a lot of other fish to fry.
“The items that are going to be covered ... are separate and apart from the tasking that this council will do should we ever have that meeting to give him guidance as to things we want him to check on a day-to-day basis,” Young said. “His job is separate and apart from this type of a function. ... I think that we would be doing ... an injustice to those people in the community who have legitimate questions.”
A visioning meeting will be held Tuesday at the council’s workshop to discuss council concerns, and work will begin next week.
A mid-audit briefing is May 16, and the project could be done by July 31.