If your accountant told you that the IRS was probably going to audit your taxes, what would you do?
Most likely, you would make sure you had all your important financial records and tax documents ready in the event you had to produce them for an investigator.
Certainly, you would not shred any documents that might be required during your audit.
It only makes sense.
It also stands to reason that municipalities should operate with the same mindset with regard to a pending financial investigation.
Not so in the case of the city of Killeen.
For the past four months, the Houston-based auditing firm of McConnell & Jones has been investigating the city’s finances at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $400,000. However, the firm is having considerable difficulty locating the necessary documents — chiefly, original invoices supporting expenditures.
Given that the City Council started talking about an audit nearly a year ago, city officials should have had plenty of time to locate any documents they thought could be requested as part of an audit.
Yet, not only did the city fail to locate and produce all the necessary documents, supervisors and department heads continued to shred documents authorized under the city’s document retention protocol after the city sent out a request for qualifications to prospective audit firms.
City Manager Ron Olson, who assumed the role in February, told the council recently that if a record was shredded or is not available, it’s because it was old and past its retention schedule.
Still, it should not have been assumed that these older documents would be of no use to auditors — especially since the exact nature of the audit hadn’t yet been determined before the last scheduled round of shredding.
It’s a sad commentary that Olson — at the urging of then-City Councilman Dick Young — had to issue a directive to department heads to stop shredding documents, nearly a month into the audit process.
More troubling is the fact that city officials have been unable to produce a comprehensive list of exactly what has been shredded or when it was destroyed.
Nor can officials say with any confidence where all the city’s records are stored.
Of course, that task has become more difficult in the past few years, as the city moved files out of City Hall in 2014 in response to an engineering study that showed the building’s third floor was unable to support their weight.
That task was further complicated late last year when then-interim City Manager Dennis Baldwin launched an initiative to move the City Hall’s operations to the Killeen Arts and Activities Center and put Ann Farris — his predecessor in the interim CM role — in charge of the move.
Records were among the items moved in the process — a process Olson has since halted — but tracking their relocation has left something to be desired.
Baldwin, the former police chief who now serves as assistant city manager, conceded recently that the city doesn’t keep a master list of records and their locations, and the law doesn’t require it.
He did say that he had made an inquiry as to where the third-floor files were moved and what kind of files they were.
That should have been determined before the city hauled out the dollies and the moving vans.
As the city’s former top law enforcement officer, Baldwin should have been more cognizant of the need to safeguard the city’s records and document their location.
Though this financial investigation isn’t a criminal case, the principles involved in the chain of custody for evidence should come into play here.
Moreover, Baldwin lacked judgment in giving Farris a prominent role in moving city departments to the KAAC, which included records from those departments. As a top administrator, Farris oversaw the finance department for three years during a period covered by the current audit. Presiding over relocation of the records gives at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Further, city records obtained by the Herald show that 74 boxes of documents from the finance department were shredded in November. Again, this may have been well within the city’s retention policy, but it doesn’t look good.
With a new police chief coming on board Sept. 1, this is an opportune time to revamp the city’s document storage and retention policy, with an eye toward efficiency — and transparency.
Just because the law doesn’t require thorough documentation of its records storage doesn’t mean it’s not a policy worth pursuing.
Indeed, Killeen’s internal auditor, Matthew Grady, said when documents are archived, they should be catalogued and indexed, so if retrieval is necessary they can be found. He added that was the process when he worked for the Department of Justice when preparing documents for federal archives.
With just about a month to go before the audit firm presents its final report, it’s doubtful that any missing documents would be helpful at this point — even if they were to be found.
However, we may never know if one of those misplaced or shredded records may have yielded information crucial to the investigation.
Further, it’s unwise to assume that nothing of value has been shredded, or that nothing of importance is languishing in an undocumented location.
When this audit wraps up in late August, the council and city manager should step back and examine how the process was handled and how to make it better.
From an ambiguously worded request for qualifications to an unclear message from the council on what form the audit should take, this investigation was hampered almost from the get-go.
But once it got off the ground, the auditors should have had access to all the documentation they needed to connect the dots.
Yet because of a lax city records policy, carelessness or both, that didn’t happen.
Hopefully, the auditors have been able to work around the missing information and will provide the answers the council, the city and its taxpayers need and deserve.