Financial mismanagement. A lack of accountability. What’s wrong at Raytown City Hall?

Raytown officials have declined to address a growing list of concerns about financial mismanagement and troubling policies at City Hall and in the police department.
Raytown officials have declined to address a growing list of concerns about financial mismanagement and troubling policies at City Hall and in the police department. Big Stock Photo

City employees in Raytown inexplicably modified their time sheets tens of thousands times during a three-month stretch last year. It’s unknown why the changes were made or how much they cost the city.

City officials have failed to publicly address the suspicious practices, despite repeated questions from concerned citizens.

But that’s not all. Other issues have surfaced within Raytown’s police department, including costly personnel decisions and problems with a volunteer program.

Questions about financial mismanagement began swirling in Raytown after a $3 million budget cut last year decimated the city’s police department. The reduction eliminated 17 positions in the process. Four civilian employees who received severance packages that totaled more than $12,000 were then hired back in the department within a month.

The growing list of troubling decisions in Raytown city government should be cause for concern among taxpayers.

Questions about all of these issues need to be answered. But repeated calls to City Administrator Missy Wilson, City Clerk Teresa Henry and Mayor Mike McDonough were not returned. They also failed to reply to several email messages from The Star.

In the police department, some volunteers appear to have been permitted to serve without having completed applications or background checks on file, a disconcerting breakdown in an essential vetting process.

Raytown Police Chief Jim Lynch denied allegations that volunteers were allowed to serve without background checks. But public records tell a different story.

Emails sent last year from Raytown Police Captain Candice Schwarz suggest that volunteers served in the Volunteers in Police Service program without completed applications or background checks on file.

Lynch said the volunteers filled out applications and underwent background checks. But they did not have applications in their files. Background checks are considered personnel records, and the department declined to release them.

The police department failed to realize that completed applications weren’t on file for some volunteers for almost a year.

The city’s bookkeeping deserves scrutiny as well. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, 2017, more than 30,000 time sheet adjustments were made by city employees, according to data from the human resources department. At least 8,700 of those corrections are unaccounted for, meaning officials have not determined why the changes were made.

A cash-strapped municipality simply can’t afford the burden of unexplained accounting errors.

An outside entity should investigate the array of governance issues first brought to light by a citizen activist in Raytown. Tony Jacob has posted his findings on The Real Raytown website and has launched a petition initiative to subject the city to a performance audit from Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office.

The petition needs signatures from about 1,340 registered Raytown voters. An audit could cost the city anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000, a hefty price to pay for a city trying to save money. But it’s a necessary expense. The state hasn’t performed an audit at city hall since the 1980s, according to a former councilman.

“An audit will restore accountability and public trust,” Jacob wrote on a social media page that discusses issues in Raytown. “Transparency is crucial in understanding what Raytown needs to be doing next.”

Jacob is correct. Raytown needs a performance audit to help the city eliminate wasteful spending. But it will also hold leaders accountable for their use of taxpayer funds.

In August, Raytown voters overwhelmingly rejected three city tax proposals that would have added funds to the city’s coffers. And it wasn’t even close. Taxpayers want to know how their money is being spent, and a lack of transparency and years of questionable financial management haven’t inspired confidence.

Raytown residents deserve an accounting of their tax dollars, and they need basic answers from public officials about policies and procedures at City Hall and in the police department.

An internal inquiry could be useful. But an independent audit of Raytown government is essential to restoring public trust.