Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway has accepted a request from Jackson County to scrutinize contracts, procurement practices and spending habits at the courthouse.
“My audit will objectively examine the concerns brought forward by county officials and provide a full accounting of how taxpayer dollars are managed,” Galloway said in a statement.
Her examination is welcome and long overdue.
Members of the county legislature spent much of last year squabbling with County Executive Frank White. The disputes led to dysfunction, a stalemate partially resolved when county officials asked Galloway to step in.
Jackson County residents should know: Galloway won’t make political recommendations. She won’t say if the county should build a new jail, for example, or how to pay for one.
But she should put the county’s budget and spending practices under an needed microscope. Here are some areas of concern she could address:
▪ Contracts. Are contracts for personal services offered for bid? If not, why not? How much does the county spend on personal services contracts for expenses such as legal representation and bond counsel each year? What do taxpayers get in return?
Does the county provide a fair, transparent bidding process for projects and procurement? Do legislators have enough information to make informed decisions when awarding contracts?
▪ Budget. Does the county follow proper budgeting procedures? Who ensures that department spending matches the budget document? Are there line items that suggest the county is overspending for certain functions?
Can county employees transfer funds from one account to another to avoid legislative scrutiny? Does it happen often?
▪ Personnel policies. Are there written guidelines for hiring in the county executive’s office and the legislature’s? Who decides salary levels and benefits? Does employee compensation seem excessive compared with peer counties?
Are travel policies followed? Are receipts collected and reconciled against expense reports? Do departments follow proper procedures for fuel use and car mileage? Is overtime properly recorded and paid?
▪ Transparency. Does the county follow best practices for compliance with open records requests? Are meeting notices posted correctly, and are meetings properly open to the public?
Are all county officials current on their tax payments? Have they been delinquent in the past?
▪ Internal controls. Does the county have the machinery in place to review spending and budgeting decisions?
The auditor should cast her net as broadly as possible. While most of the attention will focus on White’s office and the legislature, the county has other important functions: The prosecutor’s office, the sheriff, the jail, the sports complex, and the COMBAT anti-drug tax are among the programs and departments overseen by the county.
A top-to-bottom examination of all county spending may not be possible within a reasonable time frame. But Galloway should scrutinize all contracting and personnel practices to the greatest extent possible this year.
To their credit, legislators are on board, and White has encouraged the audit. “Taxpayers deserve to know that we are being responsible stewards of their dollars,” White said in a statement.
Those taxpayers can help the county achieve that goal. In her announcement of the audit, Galloway encouraged residents to step forward with their concerns as the examination begins.
Residents with tips can use the “whistleblower hotline” at email@example.com or by calling 800-347-8597.
You can also submit anonymous tips at auditor.mo.gov/hotline.
Officeholders and public officials should always welcome an honest accounting of their work. Galloway promises to engage in such a study. All Jackson Countians will benefit when her audit is done.