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City Leaders Hoping To Regain Public Trust

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

Financially speaking, it’s been a tough year at City Hall.

The city administrator and elected leaders have been the subject of public criticism and skepticism since findings of an audit report released in January identified a nearly $300,000 deficit in the city of Glenwood’s general fund account and several shortcomings in the city’s day-to-day financial practices.

If the audit report wasn’t bad enough, there was also the controversial and often-heated debate over the Vine Street and Railroad Avenue projects and the ongoing funding fiasco associated with the construction of an outdoor aquatic center.

Two of those issues have been resolved – the Vine Street and Railroad Avenue projects are being completed this summer and a funding plan for the aquatic center was finally agreed upon last month.  
So, where do things stand in regard to the shortcomings identified in the audit report? What was the balance of the general fund account when the 2015 fiscal year ended on June 30?

Mayor Kim Clark and council member Susan Hirschman (chair of the budget and finance committee) told me after last week’s council meeting an updated financial report will likely be released later this month (possibly at the Aug. 25 council meeting) after city officials have had an opportunity to go over the year-end numbers with financial consultant Susanne Gerlach of Public Financial Management, Inc., and possibly a member of the auditing team from Hamilton Associates.

“If you ask us in a couple weeks, we’ll have a better idea because we’re always about a month behind in getting the bills and getting everything caught up,” Clark said. “With the year-end, everything’s been coming in over the last month. Within two weeks, we expect to have a better picture.”

Hirschman said she expects to see a general fund deficit of “around $100,000” when the books are finally closed on the 2014-15 fiscal year, but pointed out steps are being taken to bring the general fund out of the red and address the “material weaknesses” and “significant deficiencies” identified in last winter’s audit report.

In addition to the general fund deficit, one of the major findings in the audit was that the city wasn’t reconciling its accounts to make sure fund balances match up with bank balances. That issue is being addressed, Hirschman said.

“The company that does our software for balance (DataTek) came down and met with (city administrator) Brian (Kissel) and (city clerk) Angie (Winquist),” Hirschman said. “They’ve caught all the reconciling up and they now reconcile monthly.”

Since the audit report was made public, Kissel has been the focus of much of the public scrutiny. Some citizens have publicly called for his dismissal.

Last spring, the city council presented a list of five “job performance recommendations” for Kissel designed to improve the “overall efficiency of Glenwood City Hall.” The recommendations range from not putting financial matters off until the last minute and making sure financial reports are distributed to council members in a timely manner, to having Kissel take “closed door” time where he is not disturbed so he can focus exclusively on financial responsibilities.

The list of recommendations also identifies the need to regain public trust.

“The city administrator and the city council must regain the community’s trust again, and we are striving for that goal,” the fifth and final recommendation states. “All involved want the city administrator to get better in the position.  In presentation, the community needs direct, to-the-point answers, and not so much revision and ‘spin.’ The city administrator needs to be a better communicator when it comes to discussing matters with the mayor and with the city council members. There is a perception that, for the sake of brevity or other reasons, the pros and cons of both sides of an issue may not always be fully communicated. This has left some city council members feeling that they were not fully-informed when making a decision.”

Earlier this year, Kissel promised the council and citizens of Glenwood that he would “fix everything that needs to be fixed.” Next month, the council’s public administration committee will get an update from Kissel about the progress being made in correcting the financial shortcomings identified in the audit.

Glenwood’s leaders have vowed to be transparent in keeping citizens informed about the financial state of the city. Living up to that promise is the first step in regaining the trust that’s been lost.