Who gets punished for wasting our tax dollars?
04/02/2014 5:30 PM
04/05/2014 6:07 PM
Taxpayers don’t like it when politicians and bureaucrats waste hard-earned public funds.
Here are three recent examples.
• The Kansas City Council rejected a bid by the Fire Department to save at least $800,000 a year by outsourcing medical billing for its ambulance services from city workers to a private firm.
• The council approved just over $1 million in legal settlements to four former part-time municipal prosecutors who sued the city for discrimination after the city replaced them with full-time prosecutors.
• The Jackson County Legislature approved $1.4 million to settle harassment complaints by five former employees.
Because of these actions, plenty of funds are not available to supply better public services and amenities — basically why we pay taxes in the first place.
And the $2.4 million instead had to be used for expenses that simply should not have occurred at City Hall or the courthouse. In other words, the money was wasted.
So is anyone getting disciplined for placing these financial burdens on taxpayers?
Here are the answers gleaned from interviews on Wednesday:
Start with positive news. City Manager Troy Schulte and Fire Chief Paul Berardi said the city wants to try again to improve how the city bills for ambulance services.
In fact, in one of the odder turns seen at City Hall in years, Mayor Sly James on March 27 introduced the exact same city ordinance that he and the City Council had rejected 11-0 on March 20.
The new ordinance calls for signing a contract with a subsidiary of Intermedix Corp., which offers medical billing services for many other cities around the nation.
Intermedix officials claim that — on top of savings on personnel costs — they could reap an extra several million dollars a year for the city because of their extensive databases, which they say help collect more money from ambulance patients.
Why did the council initially kill this plan?
Give council member John Sharp credit/blame for that. He collected public information showing that Intermedix had been involved in a data breach a few years ago and — according to Sharp — had not been honest with city officials about it.
Sharp, along with a few other council members, also opposed eliminating city positions in the medical billing field.
Some council members who actually support the change didn’t want to get bogged down in a public skirmish the week before they approved the annual city budget. So they killed the old ordinance.
However, the city should not be in the business of medical billing if private experts can do the job better and cheaper. The council needs to more diligently evaluate that angle, then make the move that best serves taxpayers.
Schulte said the city tried to properly fill the prosecutors’ positions, and no one is getting punished for what took place a few years ago.
But he also conceded the city is taking steps to improve its human resources procedures to try to avoid future legal problems. Schulte said settling the lawsuits avoided going to trials that could have resulted in larger damages against the city.
One additional ominous note: Four more ex-employees’ lawsuits are still pending.
None of the Jackson County employees responsible for or knowledgeable about the harassment is still with the county.
The exact reasons they are gone — such as being fired or resigning — are unclear. That raises the question of how much punishment actually was dealt out to the people involved in the wrongdoing.
However, this muchis known: Taxpayers in Kansas City and Jackson County wound up on the wrong side of the ledger and paid out for the actions taken by their government officials.
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