The waiting is almost over.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Houston-based auditing firm of McConnell & Jones are scheduled to deliver the final audit report on Killeen’s finances to the City Council.

The investigation has been more than five months in the making and has been marked by several delays — including a monthlong extension the firm requested after it received a large amount of city documents late in the process.

What should Killeen residents expect in the audit firm’s final report?

That may depend on several factors — one of the biggest being the contents of the large “document dump” the auditors had to wade through.

Just prior to the receipt of the documents, the auditors complained to the council that they were unable to locate many documents crucial to the investigation. If any of those sought-after documents are among the large cache of documents the auditors received last month, that could add some important substance and context to the final report.

Another question residents may have is which incarnation of McConnell & Jones will show up in the final report.

In a May 2 briefing, a representative of the firm gave the council a surprisingly detailed presentation outlining several problem areas that had been discovered to date. 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.

However, just a few weeks later, on June 6, the firm’s reps went back before the council with what initially had been billed as a mid-audit report, but offered little new information other than to say the audit was about 70 percent complete.

To many Killeen residents, the lackluster update was a real letdown, and it raised serious questions as to whether the company was really earning the nearly $400,000 it was being paid to conduct the audit.

It’s important to note that the firm technically works for the City Council, and it’s possible the firm was advised after the first, detailed briefing that it would not be in the firm’s best interest — or the city’s — to go into too much depth on the investigation’s findings before all the facts are in.

Whether city officials threw cold water on the auditors or if their own legal team urged them to scale back on their comments, that point is moot now.

The audit is completed. There’s no justification for soft-pedaling a finding or candy-coating a serious problem, if one was found to exist.

It’s McConnell & Jones’ responsibility to provide a full and accurate accounting of Killeen’s financial practices and procedures over the  period covered by the audit — and to offer honest critiques and criticisms, as warranted.

The effectiveness of the final report may depend on the extent to which the audit firm tempered or filtered its findings based on feedback investigators have received from city officials and staffers — as called for in the contract.

While it’s generally helpful for city officials to provide explanations and context in areas where auditors have questions, it would be unwise for auditors to skew or alter their findings based on information from city staffers who have a stake in the investigation’s outcome.

As such, it is troubling that city staffers were given access to the partially finished report behind closed doors — especially since this meeting took place just days after the firm’s second, tight-lipped public briefing. Hopefully, city staffers didn’t direct the auditors away from solid findings.

At this late stage, it’s difficult to say exactly what the results of the audit will be. No doubt, some significant financial discrepancies and procedural problems were identified — if the contents of the first briefing are any indication.

But exactly how detailed the final report is, and the value of the information it contains depend entirely on the scope of work the audit firm performed. And without having been a part of those recent closed-door meetings with the council, city manager and city staff, it’s impossible to say what the audit firm did — and what it didn’t do.

Make no mistake: McConnell & Jones’ reputation is on the line here.

Though the investigation the firm conducted falls short of the forensic audit called for by residents in the wake of last year’s projected $8 million budget shortfall, the firm was tasked to investigate seven key areas of concern, as identified by the council.

The extent to which the auditors successfully resolve those concerns and offer solutions going forward will determine whether the audit was a boon or a bust.

Hopefully, the auditors understand the need to produce a thorough, instructive audit that offers honest appraisals of any problems uncovered.

Anything less will diminish the firm’s value in the eyes of future prospective clients.

More importantly, whatever the audit’s findings, the investigation should serve to point the city down the path to more efficient, more accountable financial management.

City Manager Ron Olson said last week he is confident the full audit will be posted on the city’s website by Tuesday evening. At that point, residents can view the product of the firm’s efforts over the last five months.

Hopefully, the final report will have been well worth the wait. | 254-501-7543

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