Missouri State Auditor sends letter to mayor requesting support for water department audit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Missouri's State Auditor wants to peek inside the books at Kansas City's Water Services Department. On Tuesday, he sent a letter to Mayor Sly James to request support for an audit.

"Our office is in receipt of several complaints about the performance of the Kansas City Water Department," the letter said . "I'm sure you are aware of these issues as they have been widely reported by the media as well."

Despite his interest, Schweich's letter added that his office does not have the authority to initiate an audit on its own.

Instead there are three legal mechanisms available:

• A request from Governor Jay Nixon
• A citizens' petition by at least 10,487 registered voters
• A request by the City Council

A request by the governor would be funded by state tax dollars. The other two options would require Kansas City taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Over the past week, 41 Action News has reported on a $12 million contract slated for a customer service overhaul at the Water Services Department. The project has created some questions because city leaders plan to award it to a Chicago-based consulting firm without a competitive bidding process.

The out-of-state company has already done more than $300,000 of consulting work for the department this year. Supporters of the contract say the project will bring long overdue improvements for customers, while adding the company, West Monroe Partners, is best-equipped for the two-year job.

Critics have questioned how the city knows taxpayers are getting the best deal if the bid process is skirted.

Schweich has heard some of the issues surrounding the $12 million contract, but did not want to comment because he has not looked at the specifics. In general, he would only say he's usually a "big fan of competitive bidding."

Schweich also would not provide details about how many people have contacted his office or what the complaints included, saying that communication is confidential.

He said the Water Department's effort to improve customer service is a positive step, but he believes his office can go even further.

"We're talking about doing an audit to determine where the sources of the problems are, how the management has performed, whether there are any missing funds or money," Schweich told 41 Action News in a phone interview. "We look at a lot of other things that I would suspect this company that's been hired is not going to look at."

A spokeswoman for Mayor James said he would like to discuss the possibility with council members when they are all gathered at an upcoming meeting.

City spokesman Danny Rotert said the Water Department receives an annual independent financial audit. He also said city council members can request the City Auditor, Douglas Jones, to scrutinize a department's performance. 

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