Let’s get a tough state audit of KC’s water department

07/31/2013 9:31 AM

07/31/2013 9:33 AM

Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich wants to audit the long-troubled, very costly Kansas City Water Services Department.

It’s a great idea.

“Our office is in receipt of several complaints about the performance” of the department, Schweich wrote in a letter to Mayor Sly James on Tuesday.

No kidding; the department has been the source of much angst for Kansas Citians for years.

The easiest way to get the audit going is for James and the City Council to welcome the audit. Schweich and his office would work with the council to determine how much the audit would cost and what it could cover, Schweich told me in an interview Tuesday.

Or, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon could request the audit, although the state has limited state funds to pay for the audit, which Schweich told me could take two years.

What would the audit do?

• It would protect hundreds of thousands of customers by delving into issues about how the Water Services Department spends tens of of millions of dollars a year.

• It could review how the department has bonded sewer and water projects, resolving whether that's been done correctly.

• And — this is important — the audit also could show whether the new management of the Water Services Department is fulfilling its promise to shake up the agency and improve customer services.

Consultant Bill Downey has brought a lot of businesslike improvements to the department over the last year or so. Relatively new director Terry Leeds is trying to become the first director in a long time to have a long record of service at the agency.

Meanwhile, City Manager Troy Schulte has pledged that the agency will more quickly repair water lines and more efficiently resolve customer complaints. Some progress definitely is occurring, but much more is needed.

An audit could uncover still-recurring problems, and possibly point out new ones that need to be handled.

As Schweich told the mayor in his letter, “In light of the growing concerns among the citizens of Kansas City about the performance of the Kansas City Water Department, we believe it would be in the best interest of the citizens of the city to have this audit performed.”

Amen.

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