La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat on Tuesday vetoed a Common Council initiative to have a third party audit the city’s parks department, arguing that it duplicated work done in the city’s annual audit and is too vague in scope.

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Mayor Tim Kabat

Kabat

“Accordingly, I do not feel it is in the best interest of the city of La Crosse to approve legislation that is vague in scope, duplicates current auditing practices and organization improvement efforts and accuses staff without identifying any specific problems, and therefore I veto the legislation,” Kabat wrote in his veto notice to the council.

The council voted 10-3 last week to pay WIPFLI $30,000 to conduct a review of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department’s procurement procedures, income, donations, expenses and associated accounts for the past three years.

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Andrea Richmond mug

Richmond

Council member Andrea Richmond, who authored the resolution, was disappointed and surprised to see the mayor’s veto, she said in an interview Tuesday.

“There is reason to be looking into this,” Richmond said.

In his veto, the mayor said it was troubling to see council members say City Hall has a dishonest reputation, quoting a council member as saying “this is an opportunity for the parks department to have their name cleared.”

“In my experience, sweeping general accusations about wrong-doing are difficult to address. It would be much more productive for the council to limit the rhetoric and focus on solutions to address specific problems,” Kabat said.

He further said the council failed to spell out how WIPFLI’s audit differed from the city’s annual external audit from Hawkins Ash CPAs, which each year examines how the city manages its finances and determines whether all funds are accounted for.

Richmond reviewed the annual audit and said it used a different process.

“They don’t look at the processes and the projects. I want these projects looked at,” she said, adding she wanted it done by an independent party.

Kabat argued that the city already has tools to address concerns raised by proponents of the audit, who raised concerns about transparency and how funds were spent on parks department projects.

The mayor last month proposed a detailed review and analysis of several parks department projects to be done by the city’s finance department, something he said would better address council members’ concerns.

“And based on recent suggestions, my directive can be amended to include how professional services were solicited for each of these projects,” Kabat said.

The Finance Department reviewing those processes to identify improvements would “bear the most fruit,” he said.

For the last several years, the city has been working to establish more efficient financial procedures following a 2014 organizational assessment which said the city as a whole relies too heavily on manual financial systems.

He also suggested directing Hawkins Ash CPAs to provide a detailed look at the parks department as part of the regular independent audit.

Kabat questioned how the council decided on WIPFLI to perform the audit.

“I find it ironic that the Common Council selected to the vendor to perform the audit without soliciting bids or proposals from qualified firms, which I understand is one of the significant concerns certain members of the council has of the parks department,” Kabat said.

Richmond said WIPFLI was chosen on the recommendation of the city’s legal department.

The council would need a super-majority of nine votes to override the veto.

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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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