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Joplin City Manager Focused on Moving Forward Following Release of State Audit

Scott Harvey

Findings of an audit of the city of Joplin by Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway include millions of dollars mismanaged by the city.

Galloway gave the city a “poor” rating in the audit, which she says “focuses on the long-term mismanagement of public dollars in the months and years after the tornado.”  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has reaction from Joplin’s city manager.

The city entered into an agreement with Wallace Bajjali in 2012 to redevelop Joplin after the 2011 tornado.  Land purchased for that reason still sits empty today.  And the state’s auditor, Nicole Galloway, says a series of property purchases related to the redevelopment plans include questionable involvement by Joplin’s former mayor, Mike Woolston, who acted as the broker on properties purchased by a local real estate development company.  Those properties in the redevelopment zone, the audit finds, were later flipped to the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation “at a high markup.”

The audit also suggests the city of Joplin evaluate the amount of money it provides to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.  It found that the amount provided is significantly more than other similar-size cities.

Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm said they’ve already had discussions with the chamber about their contract.

"We've got a meeting actually next Monday night to discuss a new contract with the chamber, so we're moving forward," he said.

Anselm said the audit shined a light on things he was unaware of and he’s prepared to fix any problems so that city staff can “continue to do their jobs efficiently.”  The audit was presented to Joplin City Council in June.  Anselm said he hasn’t been able to discuss the findings with city staff since the information remained closed record until the report was made public.

"I didn't have an opportunity to reach out to a lot of the department heads and get some clarification.  We had some information that's coming in since the audit was released yesterday that provides some clarification on some of the findings that they revealed, and we'll compile that.  We'll get that out to the public to let them have access to that information and then it's just really a matter of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work making things better for our residents," he said.

Other findings in the audit were violations of the Sunshine Law—the auditor said the Joplin City Council held at least 10 closed meetings and 10 work sessions where notes were not properly taken or provided to the public.  And she pointed out a lack of adequate controls and procedures over manual and system –generated checks and to ensure restricted funds are used only for intended purposes.   Anselm said he was surprised by some of the findings.

"To the extent that some of the daily operations--the way change orders are handled and things like that, some of the findings in the latter part of the report are the things that I'm focused on," he said.

He said there were some findings in the audit he “respectfully disagrees with,” one being the recommendation to look at what’s spent on meals and other items for city staff and city council.

"We have a staff of about 500 employees here who work extremely hard to serve our residents and our businesses in this community, and a little bit of appreciation goes a long way in those efforts, so, you know,  the auditor recommended, for one, that, you  know, maybe we should do away with those Christmas lunches and do away with providing meals for council members.  You know, our council members get paid $5 a meeting, you know, for doing the work that they do, so if we can provide a meal to them late in the evening, you know, that's something that I feel comfortable recommending that we continue to practice," he said.

He said some changes are already in the works.  The city will implement a new budget system next year, and, according to Anselm, it’s expected to “help bring about changes in how we engage council members and residents in terms of setting priorities.”

"That addresses some of the financial aspects that were detailed in later sections of that audit report," he said.

He said now that the audit is complete and has been presented to the public, they’re ready to move forward.

"It certainly is never a good thing to be rated poor, you know, but I take less stock in the rating than, you know, the work that's involved with fixing some things that need to fixed," he said.

Anselm hopes the public will comment on the audit’s findings and provide ideas for improvement.

Since the audit included a performance rating of “poor,” the state auditor’s office will conduct a follow-up review with another report to be issued in 2016.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.