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Our View: DeKalb spending needs closer look

Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 9:52 p.m. CDT

People who think government should be run like a business would be puzzled at some of the recent spending practices at DeKalb City Hall.

Some of the spending maneuvers recently brought to light would be enough to land a private-sector manager in hot water, or even fired.

Consider this example: The city’s policy gives the city manager purchasing power of up to $20,000. All purchases greater than that require City Council approval.

But at least twice, that approval was not sought until after a purchase was made, or work on a project had already begun.

The city’s also not keeping very close track of all the money it is taking in and spending, either. Many purchases for employee expenses and other items have been made through funds that are not listed anywhere in the city’s budget.

City Manager Anne Marie Gaura, now seven weeks on the job, alluded to some of these shortcomings in a written statement last week, in which she said the city needed to improve its “process for purchasing,” and its means of “tracking all city revenues and expenditures and fully disclosing the same within the city’s approved budget.”

Gaura said that she already has identified some areas where the city should do better to ensure departments are sticking to their budget – a concern most taxpayers would agree should have been of key importance before her arrival.

As a solution, Gaura has proposed hiring a consultant to look at the city’s books, something that last happened in 2009. That review resulted in dramatic changes in the city’s staffing. There were layoffs as functions such as legal work were outsourced and other positions were consolidated.

It seems odd that the city should need to hire another financial consultant only five years after the last time outsiders were called. However, it’s generally agreed that recommendations in the last review saved the city more money than they cost to obtain. If another go-round with a consulting firm can “pay for itself” – and produce more transparent and efficient financial practices – then it would be worth it.

Any report on the city’s finances and spending practices should be open to public inspection, too, so people can see not only where things might have gone wrong but also where they are headed.

City officials don’t need a consultant to take steps toward greater financial accountability, though. They can start by following the existing policies on city council oversight of spending, and accurately tracking their expenses against their budgets.

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