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Earlier this month, the La Crosse Common Council voted 10-3 in favor of an external audit of the city’s parks department. Wipfli, a financial award-winning firm, was chosen to conduct the audit.

David Marshall mug

Marshall

Mayor Tim Kabat vetoed this council action claiming that the resolution was vague, duplicated an internal audit he had already called for, and had the effect of maligning city staff without cause.

I am one of the council members who voted for the external audit. I remain strongly committed to this resolution. During the past years, council members have asked specific accounting questions about major projects and far too many times they have received incomplete answers.

Council members have been surprised by money being spent on the design of projects — funded from the parks department operating budget — before council approval. This is a circumvention of council authority.

State law is silent or unclear about the procurement requirements for “requests for service” such as architectural and engineering designs. This statutory loophole results in the same consultants being used repeatedly on a no-bid basis. We want to know which consultants are being used, how often they are contracted, and how much they are being paid. This information will assist us in crafting more competitive — and money-saving — policies.

In the past three years, tens of thousands of dollars were spent on outside counsel for many of our parks projects. We want to know which legal firms are being used, how often, and how much they are being paid. This will help us understand whether there is a business case to add staff to our city legal department.

The parks department manages several major projects totaling millions of dollars in forecast spending. Many of those projects rely heavily on private donations. How are those donations tracked? Have any donations been used for projects other than those for which the donations were intended?

These are but a few of the questions we have for the external audit to answer. To address the mayor’s concerns regarding the vagueness of the audit’s scope, we will provide a list of specific concerns we would like Wipfli to focus on.

Some have asked why we should conduct an external audit instead of an internal one. I asked Wipfli that same question.

The response: “The audit performed by Wipfli LLP will provide an objective and independent review of documents and other sources. We have expertise in the performance of agreed-upon procedures, including tracking and tracing of transactions, reviewing fund accounts, auditing of governmental agencies, forensic accounting, and consulting with nonprofit and governmental organizations.”

The company added that an “internal audit would be performed by individual employees who report to someone in the city’s management who may not have the expertise that our employees assigned to the project have.”

Many of us on the council maintain that an external audit carries a return on investment, that it would more than pay back its cost by replacing inefficient processes with best practices. This is the main reason that businesses and government bodies routinely conduct focused, external audits.

Our desire for an external audit is not rash nor designed to embarrass any individual, department or the city’s governance. The Common Council has nothing but the highest regard for the valuable work of the city of La Crosse staff, many who have chosen to forego the higher pay and benefits of positions in the private sector to serve the public good. As I have stated in the past: This is not about people, but about processes.

Indeed, this is all about transparency, accountability and securing the public trust. This is about the fiduciary duty that we took on as council members to be good stewards of taxpayer money.

A vote will occur at the Dec. 14 Common Council meeting to determine whether the resolution stands. A super-majority vote of at least 9-4 is required to overturn the mayor’s veto. This means that if all council members vote the way they did in November, the veto would be overturned.

Please write to your council member supporting the external audit. Please come to the Common Council meeting in December to give voice to your support.

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David Marshall represents District 4 on the La Crosse Common Council.

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(9) comments

LaCrosseTaxPayer

Could it be the mayor knows something he doesn’t want the taxpayers to know?
We need to protect the cash cow for the good old boy clubs!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Redwall

If Mr. Marshall and the Council cannot get answers to the simple questions cited in the letter then there is indeed a problem.

The solution to the problem may be as simple as developing a professional way of reporting out status and results of projects in progress and those on the drawing board. That transparency is what the Council has a fiduciary obligation to ensure, and the taxpayers have a right to be confident those controls are in place.

Overturn the veto.

250000 New Jobs

This whole opinion is buIIshit. Parks & Dec doesn't hire the Architects and Engineers that work on City Park projects. Nor do they oversee the Construction process. That work is actually performed by the City Engineering Department. And P & R doesn't select which outside Attorneys that they work with. That task is actually accomplished by the City Legal Department.
So it appears that Mr. Marshall has no idea what he is talking about. In fact it is likely that he didn't even write most of this. Rather it is likely that most of this was written by someone that Marshall is very beholden to. The true author of this is someone who has very little integrity and has written numerous other "documents" that have been submitted to the City under other people's name in the past. Mr. Marshall is nothing more than a puppet.

madmen60

I know for a fact that p and r hires outside counsel. I think Marshall raises good points and that the veto should be over ridden. Marshall has written a well constructed, well though out analysis.

250000 New Jobs

P&R hires outside counsel pursuant to the City Attorney's Office direction. They do not select the Attorney. The City Attorney's Office tells them sho to hire.

canman

Do the audit, make all the results public, then watch the public scream about how much incompetence and money was spent on pie in the sky projects that the squeaky wheel groups pushed through. They has been no accountability from the council or mayors office on how taxpayer money has been spent. If there was, you would be able to drive on the streets with out knocking your fillings loose.

kingman10

Indeed an outside audit is much more complete and thorough and transparent than internal audits. Internal audits done by various departments only compares the money coming in to the money going out. Out side audit also studies who is getting the money, why, and if its done efficiently. The mayor should not of vetoed the out side audit.

250000 New Jobs

Except this has little to do with transparency. The whole purpose of this endeavor is to try and embarass P&R and to give someone a bloody nose. The people behind it are about nontransparent as can be. If it wasn't so obvious of what they hope to achieve I would support an outside audit in a second.

kingman10

having worked in local government for many years I can tell you that outside audits are a must. Too often local government officials find ways to hide money and expenditures with the help of other government officials in ways that are not transparent. Often the checks and balances in local governments are insufficient, incomplete, or are outright ineffective. The tax payers need to know their tax support of local agencies are managed to the highest standards in efficiency and accountability. Only an outside audit can assure that.

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