Kansas City government has had an ethics hotline since 1999, but a new audit says the program doesn’t do thorough investigations and doesn’t disclose useful information to the public.
The study of the hotline by the city auditor said the program doesn’t follow many hotline best practices, doesn’t use the hotline to improve trouble spots and doesn’t make the hotline number, (800) 340-3132, easy for city employees or the public to find.
Unlike some other cities, Kansas City does not regularly report how many allegations were made, types of allegations, and what percent were substantiated.
Hotlines can be an effective tool against fraud and misconduct, but Kansas City hasn’t incorporated recommended practices or used it to demonstrate management’s commitment and support for an ethical environment, says the audit report, which is scheduled to be discussed Wednesday by the City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee.
The report, which includes numerous recommendations for improvements, will be available online Wednesday at kcmo.gov/cityauditor/.
City Auditor Doug Jones declined to comment about the report until after the council committee meeting.
The hotline was established as the result of a 1997 Red Flag Commission recommendation, after a wave of public corruption scandals involving elected city officials in the mid-1990s. It is available for the City Council, city staff and residents to anonymously report “suspected abuse and wrongdoing by officials or employees and those doing business with the city.”
The city has a contract, costing about $8,000 a year, with a vendor called NAVEX to take the calls. Investigations and responses to allegations are handled by city staff.
The auditor’s office found that NAVEX does follow recommended practices in taking the hotline calls, asking appropriate questions and passing allegations along to city staff in a timely manner.
But at the city level, performance drops, the audit found. The current hotline administrator, Pat Klein, is an assistant city manager who has had numerous other duties, was recently appointed to head the city’s aviation department and doesn’t have time to adequately oversee the hotline.
▪ The city has not consistently promoted the hotline. The number of calls has dropped from a high of 118 in 2004 to a low of 33 in 2015.
▪ Investigations take too long, are not always thorough and too many of the investigations are not done by trained investigators. The auditor’s office reviewed three hotline cases and found that none was fully investigated to ensure that all relevant individuals were interviewed and complaints were either refuted or resolved.
▪ The city doesn’t analyze hotline data for trends and opportunities for adjustment and improvement. While hotline calls are confidential, the city could provide public updates with a summary of statistics and outcomes, as some other cities like Austin, Texas, do.
The audit recommended the designation of a permanent hotline administrator, which City Manager Troy Schulte said he intends to do, although he says it will be an existing staff person on a part-time basis.
It recommended posting the hotline number on the city’s home page, developing written policies that incorporate best practices, assigning trained investigators and reporting hotline summaries annually. The city manager generally agreed with those recommendations.