• December 24, 2014

Killeen audit system, employee hearings lack checks, balances

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Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 10:50 pm, Fri Apr 26, 2013.

A system of checks and balances is crucial to the effective functioning of any government, from city hall to the halls of Congress.

This is especially true when it comes to the handling of internal audits and investigations.

From the standpoint of objectivity, it makes no sense to have an internal auditor report to the person who has hiring and firing authority over the position.

Yet, that’s exactly the case in Killeen, where the city charter calls for the internal auditor to report to the city manager — who can fire the auditor at any time.

Obviously, the current situation has the potential to be problematic.

An internal auditor’s job is to point out errors, procedural problems and discrepancies in the city’s financial operations — all of which reflect to some degree on the city manager. Consequently, the ability to produce an impartial, thorough report could be compromised by the implied threat of termination.

Moreover, the current system allows internal audit reports to be edited or adjusted before being viewed by the council, and that has the potential to destroy an audit’s credibility — both in the eyes of the council members and the public.

A lawsuit filed against the city last week by former Killeen finance director Barbara Gonzales referenced an external audit presented in early 2012, in which the auditors advised that the internal auditor should remain independent so “the external auditor could rely on work performed.”

When the city published the external auditors’ report last April, it did not contain their critical comments. The city was without a council quorum at the time, as a result of the November 2011 recall election.

The lack of transparency inherent in the current setup was demonstrated by a 2009 internal audit in which the auditor reported to then-City Manager Connie Green that double billing occurred frequently by the city’s EMS billing department, constituting possible fraud and posing a potential liability to the city. Though Green claimed the problem had been rectified, it was much later before council members were apprised of the auditor’s concerns.

Mayor Dan Corbin said he called for changes to the auditor situation when he was elected to the council in 2003, but couldn’t garner the necessary support. Now, as mayor, he helped push through a proposed charter amendment — Proposition 12 — that would put the council in charge of hiring and firing the internal auditor. The amendment — which is endorsed by City Manager Glenn Morrison — will be put to a public vote in May.

In most cities across the nation, the internal auditor answers to the council and not the city manager, Corbin noted.

Obviously the city manager’s position is vital to the efficient running of the city, and it comes with a broad range of responsibility and authority. As the post is currently structured in Killeen’s charter, the city manager has the ability to hire and fire all city employees, with the exception of the municipal judge, who is appointed by the council. Also, the appointment of department heads is subject to council approval, as is the appointment of a city attorney.

City policy further amplifies the city manager’s authority when it comes to the disposition of city employees who file appeals to terminations or reductions in hours.

Members of the review board that hears the appeals of terminated employees are appointed by the city manager, the same person who generally authorizes the termination in the first place.

Then, after the board has conducted an employee’s appeal hearing, the members submit their findings to the city manager — who can either accept or reject the board’s recommendations.

In other words, the entire review process is a closed system with no checks and balances. The review process is an extension of the charter’s language granting the city manager ultimate authority over hiring and removing employees. But from an outsider’s point of view, the deck appears to be stacked against those filing an appeal — and that’s not how an impartial appeal process should work.

The review process will be on display next month when Gonzales — who was fired by Morrison on Dec. 12 after a two-month internal investigation — has her hearing before the Civilian Personnel Hearing Board. It will be interesting to see how the board’s recommendation is received by the city manager, especially since Morrison was named in the lawsuit Gonzales’ attorney filed last week.

Whatever the board’s findings regarding Gonzales’ termination, an equitable, transparent resolution would be in the city’s best interest.

But without the logical checks and balances in place, that outcome is anything but a certainty.

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8 comments:

  • Bubba posted at 9:52 am on Sat, Mar 23, 2013.

    Bubba Posts: 763

    start by finding out why the Killeen public information officer is being paid $97,000 a year to pass out pamphlets.

     
  • Eliza posted at 11:03 pm on Wed, Mar 20, 2013.

    Eliza Posts: 901

    @ Don't Bell Co. judges, commissioners etc. travel in same circles as city employees at the top & other elected officials in Killeen?

    In a case such as this,I would always ask for a jury trial - If you are telling the truth ,tell your story in front of the public.You stand a better chance of winning in front of a group instead of just letting 1 decide.

    Killeen has just had the same as a trial in front of the public of the county, a short time ago, when the last council paid off the last city manager without any explantation.The city already has a reputation of taking $750,000 of citizenry tax money to make payment for something the citizens weren't even involved in.

    Ms Gonzales reputation is now in question,Its up to her now to prove she was punished but did nothing wrong, If the case would be settled outside a courtroom ,there will still always be a slur against her reputation concerning what shes been accused of doing or not doing.
    If you've been accused but are guilty of no crime,most would advise, its best to tell it to the world or a jury trial.

     
  • Viktor posted at 12:04 am on Wed, Mar 20, 2013.

    Viktor Posts: 317

    As usual Eliza makes interesting points. More thoughts: Don't Bell Co. judges, commissioners etc. travel in same circles as city employees at the top & other elected officials in Killeen? What kind of outcome might be expected for someone that litigates against the city and asks for a large sum in damages? This entire situation's a reminder why recall laws on books are up for change in Killeen's May election. Killeen hires top leaders with baggage so lawsuits are highly likely. Can't afford to have city shut down due to another recall like that of last city council. That council unwisely paid last city manager to leave the job. Tightening recall language in city charter will make it challenging to recall but let's keep it real. It won't make another recall impossible.

     
  • Eliza posted at 10:35 pm on Tue, Mar 19, 2013.

    Eliza Posts: 901

    After reading Mr Acker's complaint against the city at - http://kdhnews.com/news/acker-vs-the-city-of-killeen/pdf_5d2a597e-8dd4-11e2-93d0-0019bb30f31a.html -- concerning his being dismissed from his employment,
    Its hard to understand why with all the pilfering, (as stated in complaint by Mr Acker),use of public hours spent on personal auto repairs, and even the working on a police Sgt' boat motor repaired on tax payers time.

    Why someone who was in immediate charge ,and there were several supervisors on the scene,would not have realized what was happening and reported it themselves.

    Why Gonzales,whose job had her located in a completely different section of the city away from the fleet service location, how would she supposely know anything about the taking of as described 'used' parts .


    Its surprising that during the times items were taken and if as stated in complaint is true, it had been going on longer then the citizens would like to think,

    Its hard to understand why one of the supervisors on the scene didn't observe what was happening and report it to the proper authorities themselves.

    After reading through the complaint, A citizen would have to wonder especially about 1 item in particular, the case of a City owned Crown Victoria having parts removed for another personally owned Crown Victoria,
    Were all of the parts that were taken, truly used enough, that they could no longer be used on the tax payers vehicle?.

     
  • Viktor posted at 6:59 pm on Tue, Mar 19, 2013.

    Viktor Posts: 317

    Didn't current mayor think this guy was right choice for city manager? There was some quote to the effect that "everyone" he talked to said he was the guy for the job. Harker Heights & nearby cities have managers that work as a team with others to bring in business & job growth. Heights is even getting Sam's Club. What great stuff has Killeen's city manager done lately?

     
  • Eliza posted at 5:14 pm on Sun, Mar 17, 2013.

    Eliza Posts: 901

    The Power to do can only be given by those who are the real power.

    If all Ms Gonzales is saying in court documents is true,
    why should she allow herself to be thrown under the bus possibly in the future, by knowingly standing by and doing nothing, when someone else has been the bus driver/
    She would have been a fool ,
    but instead she seems to be an honest tax payer employee.

     
  • Max67 posted at 2:50 pm on Sun, Mar 17, 2013.

    Max67 Posts: 63

    I agree. It should probably also be noted that Glenn Morrison was supportive of the initiative to have the city's internal auditor report to the city council instead of him only AFTER he had already placed Ms. Gonzales on leave in order to terminate her, which is after she had raised the issue.

    It's also important to keep in mind that Glenn also had his internal auditor (who reports directly to him) conduct the fictitious audit/investigation of Fleet Services, which was designed to give him an excuse to terminate the employees he wanted to eliminate. He was in control of that effort, ad he'll be in control of the deciosion made in the public (termination appeal) hearings for Barbara Gonzales and John Acker.

    Glenn did not have the auditor follow-up on fraud, waste, and abuse events that were tied to Glenn and the division he headed up at the time those events were reported to have occurred (and shortly after).

    How can someone with such low moral values be given such much power and be permitted to violate the laws and rights of his staff who tried to hold him accountable and the taxpayers (whose tax dollars he abused). I think we'll see that those violations were also often in the best interest of a few select management staff who supported him in his wrongful actions. It makes you wonder if the council should consider the potential benefits of terminating the mgt. personnel committing the offenses and rewarding those who tried to stand up for the taxpayers (unfortunately, at a very high cost to them and their families).

     
  • Eliza posted at 11:33 am on Sun, Mar 17, 2013.

    Eliza Posts: 901

    @ Obviously, the current situation has the potential to be problematic.

    Excellent editorial covering all the ifs and and buts of what can happen when someone has too much power.
    We are seeing it in not only in government at the highest realm but locally as well.
    We were warned at the beginning to keep check on government,not only at the federal level but at local,and state levels also.

    I believe what happens is the people are coaxed and made to believe the people are beholding to government when No, its the other way around.