A coalition of La Crosse Common Council members has put forth an effort for a complete third-party audit of the city’s parks department.

Council member Andrea Richmond introduced a resolution this week that will go before the city’s Finance & Personnel Committee on Nov. 2 after council members Barb Janssen, Roger Christians, Scott Neumeister and David Marshall signed on to fast-track the legislation.

“I just felt it was important to have an external independent review of the expenditures and revenues that have been raised in the parks and recreation department,” Richmond said.

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Richmond

The resolution calls for the city to pay WIPFLI $30,000 to conduct a review of the parks department procurement procedures, income generated, donations received, expenses incurred and associated accounts for three years.

“It sends a clear message to the community that there is going to be a process that’s going to explore the way we’ve done things in the past,” Marshall said.

The move comes on the heels of an internal audit ordered by La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat two weeks ago, which directed the city’s finance department to review six parks projects: Riverside Park, Veterans Memorial Pool, Copeland Park, Carroll Field, Trane Park and Poage Park.

Kabat introduced the audit in an effort to make sure the city is as transparent as possible when it comes to how money is allocated and spent on public projects, particularly those projects which also draw private donations.

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Marshall

While Marshall was pleased to see Kabat’s internal audit, he said his constituents had told him they would feel better knowing it was from a disinterested third party.

“Any time that you’re considering having an internal audit, you should weigh the pros and cons on having an internal versus an external,” Marshall said.

Richmond expanded the audit to include all of the department’s books for the past three years to get a complete analysis.

“I think there needs to be a broader picture out there and not just a focus on those,” Richmond said.

While Marshall said he’d prefer the city prioritize projects that are private-public partnerships, he understood Richmond’s reasoning.

“This is not about the people. It’s about the process,” Marshall said.

Richmond agreed, adding that an outsider’s perspective could be very useful.

“I think we need to make sure we’re doing the right thing here, make sure we’re doing the right procedures and tracing invoices to expenses,” Richmond said. “Different eyes can see something different maybe.”

Parks director Steve Carlyon said the process predates his tenure and funding allocation for parks projects is done through resolutions.

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Carlyon

“It’s not bad to have a healthy look at way things are done,” Carlyon said.

Marshall stressed that the audit is not a critique of the way Carlyon leads his department.

“I have a lot of regard for Steve Carlyon. I think he’s an individual with phenomenal leadership capabilities,” Marshall said.

The mayor’s internal audit was scheduled to be completed in three months. Richmond said she’s hoping for a similar time frame, but the external audit could take longer.

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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