A Houston-based auditing firm is looking for answers into Killeen’s troubled financial past.
City employees may hold some of those answers, but in order to provide them, they need some assurances that they won’t be subject to retaliation from supervisors.
Killeen’s city manager should offer them that guarantee.
Already, the investigative audit into the city’s financial dealings, authorized by the City Council in March, has produced some troubling findings.
The audit firm was instructed to examine the city’s capital projects; bond money usage; inter-fund transfers; pay increases; city-developer agreements; roadway ownership; and post-recall spending.
McConnell & Jones’ preliminary report, delivered to the council on May 6, detailed a host of significant problems: unauthorized use of bond funds, inconsistent planning for capital projects, misapplication of pay raises, and creation of an escrow account to transfer funds.
In short, the findings revealed a disturbing misuse of public money.
The city has employed four finance directors in the span of five years, a period covered by the current audit. Given that fact, information from employees on how policies were developed and enforced over that span could be instructive to investigators.
A fraud hotline touted last week by City Auditor Matthew Grady is a significant step in gathering tips and information needed to move the investigation forward. Employees are being assured that the 24-hour voicemail hotline is accessible only by Grady, who was hired early this year and not tied to previous city administrations. A printable form also can be downloaded from the site and mailed anonymously to the city auditor.
These are important safeguards, as several of the administrators in charge during the period the audit covers are still on staff. But even with an anonymous hotline setup, some employees may be afraid of retribution at the hands of supervisors, for a variety of reasons.
As such, it’s imperative that City Manager Ron Olson send a strong message that nothing — or no one — will be allowed to impede the current audit investigation.
However, it’s possible that some crucial documentation already has been lost — either inadvertently or intentionally — potentially making the auditors’ job more difficult.
Olson issued a directive that no city documents were to be shredded or otherwise destroyed, but his order came after the audit was well underway. While the directive was a necessary step in ensuring the auditors have access to information pertinent to their investigation, Olson should have been given it as soon as the audit was authorized. Even better, a similar directive could have come from the interim city manager when talk of an audit first surfaced last summer.
Certainly, Grady’s memo encouraging city staffers to use the fraud hotline was a good step as well, but it was a bit late as well. The hotline should have been publicized as soon as the audit was given the green light, so employees would know right off the bat that their input would be both welcome and protected.
Olson needs to go further — warning city staffers that any harassment or intimidation in connection with employee reporting of information to the auditors will be met with disciplinary action — to include termination.
Above all, employees who provide information for the investigation must be guaranteed that their jobs will be protected, short of offering legal immunity from prosecution.
The May 6 report by McConnell & Jones should convince City Council members — even those who have been lukewarm in their support of an audit — that it’s in the city’s best interests to ensure that the auditors receive the necessary resources to provide a clear picture of Killeen’s financial history.
Thanks to the efforts of outgoing Councilman Richard “Dick” Young, the preliminary report from the auditors was moved up before the May 6 election.
That sobering report should have served to open the eyes of council members and the city’s residents.
Moving forward, auditors must have access to all the information necessary to get an accurate picture of the city’s financial problems — and propose comprehensive solutions to correct them.
With the mid-audit report coming up June 6, this is an opportunity for city officials and residents alike to stand up for employee protections, better accountability and greater transparency.
At a cost of nearly $400,000, this investigative audit is an investment in the city’s future.
Let’s make sure we get everything out of it we can.