Most Independence City Hall employees report to their department directors, who then report to the city manager’s office.

Most Independence City Hall employees report to their department directors, who then report to the city manager’s office.

But three positions, by City Charter, report directly to the City Council: the city manager, the city clerk and the management analyst.

Since Tracey Elmore left her position of 12 1/2 years as management analyst in early September – mostly due to frustration and the lack of audits conducted in recent years, she said – the role has received a significant amount of discussion, including how it should interact with the city manager compared with the City Council.

“Functionally, the person is performing audits of the city organization in areas that I am responsible for, so there is information flow and involvement,” City Manager Robert Heacock said. He referred any further questions to the council, including members who serve on the Audit and Finance Committee.

Former City Manager Larry Blick said the Audit and Finance Committee spent the most time with the management analyst during his tenure as city manager from 1993 through 2004.

“I was able to suggest to the committee some areas that we needed help or where I thought an audit would be helpful to improving efficiency and effectiveness,” Blick said. “I think the committee was always open to anyone who had suggestions for audits, but their job was to recommend priorities to the council.”

At the beginning of each fiscal year, Blick said, a list of potential audit topics was developed and periodically added to.

“I, in fact, would suggest some, and council members suggested some,” Blick said, “but the Audit and Finance committee decided which priority would be given.”

Blick said he also worked with Elmore in developing a method to determine the priority of auditing subjects, using factors such as timeliness and the dollar amount of the program being audited.

To improve the analyst’s role, Elmore said, the council – especially the Audit and Finance Committee – should realize that the analyst reports directly to them, not the city manager.

“Although they may consult with the city manager for suggestions, (council members) should never defer to the city manager and allow that position to have authority over the analyst,” Elmore said. “One of the primary purposes of having the analyst is to provide an independent assessment of the work being done by the city manager and his or her staff. If the city manager is allowed to control the analyst’s work, it’s doubtful this assessment will occur.”

The Audit and Finance Committee should act as an adviser to the management analyst, Elmore said. Committee members, she added, should help the analyst prioritize audit requests and ensure the analyst’s work independent.

“When the analyst has difficulty obtaining information or needs assistance in another manner to complete the work, the committee should act as a liaison to ensure the analyst can do the job,” Elmore said. “...The analyst’s work should place priority on serving the citizens by helping to make their city government as efficient and effective as possible.”

Mayor Don Reimal stepped down as chairman of the Audit and Finance Committee last week, saying he wants to spend more time on the April 3 ballot question on a property tax for more police officers.

The City Council, pending approval at an upcoming meeting, intends to name District 1 Council Member Marcie Gragg as the new chairwoman, with District 2 Council Member Jim Engelman filling the committee vacancy.

“I think everybody is interested in making sure the city is running as efficiently as possible. I think that we’ve got a pretty good system going,” Reimal said. “There is always room for improvements, but I think what we’ve got going has worked very well so far.”



FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS

The city has received dozens of applications for a new management analyst, and council members have said they want to make sure they hire a highly qualified person for the role and that it cannot be filled overnight.

Young said she did ask Heacock to remove himself from the hiring process and said that he agreed.

So, which areas of City Hall should the new analyst, once hired, take a look at? It’s all fair game, Elmore said.

“There was a list of pending audit topics floating around when I left,” she said, “and almost all of the requests on this list are viable and should be considered.”

Before this can happen, Elmore added, the Audit and Finance Committee must approve the pending audit topics.

“True and accurate reporting,” Young said, is needed from the analyst, but he or she also must keep in mind the restraints of each department.

“For example, if the department is shorthanded and the work load is great, there will be problems,” Young said. “If we cannot afford to hire someone, we can take recommendations and adjustments can be made, but the fact will still remain that the department will remain short-staffed and could do a better job if we hire more employees.”

Elmore made one point clear: Change and improvement are needed in her former role.

“Unless the committee gives the analyst approval to conduct audits and agrees to support the analyst in his or her work efforts,” Elmore said, “the analyst is nothing more than a high-paid sitting duck, a total waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

As the council considers the new hire, change also is upon the Audit and Finance Committee with a new chairwoman. Young said she is looking forward to the change of leadership with Gragg as the Audit and Finance Committee chairwoman and the addition of Engelman to the committee.

“We will be taking an even more in-depth look into the budget, and I look forward to a well-qualified auditor filling that position,” Young said. “I say we get on with the business of running the city and hopefully end the rumor mill.”