Remember the ongoing audit into Killeen’s financial dealings?
With so many other news events taking center stage — such as the Killeen City Council election, the just-concluded Texas legislative session and skyrocketing local property appraisals — it would be understandable if the investigation into the city’s troubled finances is not on the minds of the city’s residents right now.
But it should be.
On Tuesday, the Houston-based auditing firm conducting the investigation is scheduled to present its mid-audit briefing to the City Council — and it could be an eye-opening presentation.
Last month, representatives of the firm went before the council, just days before the municipal election, and produced a list of troubling findings.
Among them: unauthorized use of bond funds, inconsistent planning for capital projects, misapplication of pay raises, and creation of an escrow account to transfer funds.
Taken as a whole, the findings revealed a disturbing misuse of public money.
Now that the firm, McConnell & Jones, is at the halfway point of its investigation, it will be instructive to see what other problems the audit has uncovered — and how the council reacts to the news.
The firm’s last update was provided prior to the City Council election, at the urging of outgoing Councilman Richard “Dick” Young.
It proved to be a sobering session for those on the dais, particularly those who had insisted that the city’s routine annual external audit had provided proof that Killeen’s finances were in order.
To their credit, council members recognized the significance and severity of the audit firm’s preliminary findings, and most made a verbal commitment to follow through with whatever corrective actions may be called for.
However, that was then. This is now.
With the election behind them, the newly elected and re-elected council members may not have the same passion about keeping the audit at the forefront of council priorities.
And while a few council members downplayed the public’s interest in an audit prior to McConnell & Jones’ May 2 report, residents have expressed their continuing concern on the issue.
In an unofficial KDH online reader poll conducted the week after the audit firm’s preliminary report, 89 percent of the poll’s respondents said the council should make it a priority to follow through on the investigative financial audit.
In a more recent online reader poll conducted May 21 through 27, 34 percent of respondents said the main problem facing the council and city manager is putting the city’s finances in order. Only one other category — reducing the city’s crime rate — was chosen by a higher number of respondents.
Obviously, the city’s financial practices remain a concern to a significant portion of the city’s residents — as well it should.
The city has employed four finance directors in the span of five years, a period covered by the current audit. It’s likely that the frequent changeover played a role in the uneven application of policies and flawed procedures that the audit firm has noted to date.
Moreover, it’s possible that some of these troublesome practices contributed to a lack of controls on the city’s spending, which culminated in the projected $8 million shortfall that greeted council members at the outset of last year’s municipal budget process — the same shortfall that brought a public outcry for an audit in the first place.
The audit that is underway falls short of the forensic audit residents called for last summer, but it has the potential to provide valuable insight into what the city has been doing wrong — and how to fix it.
With that in mind, it is imperative that the audit process gets the council’s full support.
Moreover, the council must be prepared to act decisively if the audit finds that actions by the city generally or administrators specifically have breached legal and ethical standards in the conducting of city business.
Additionally, council members must take a proactive role with the audit process, monitoring the auditors to ensure they fully investigate all areas specified in the audit contract.
Killeen residents have a role to play as well.
As the mid-audit report is rolled out, it’s incumbent upon the city’s taxpayers to pay attention to the findings and demand that their elected representatives take the appropriate corrective — and possibly punitive — action.
No matter what other findings come from this financial audit, city officials and residents must come together to demand greater efficiency, accountability and transparency.
We simply can’t afford to go down this road again.