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Unified Government announces major organizational restructuring

KBI currently investigating UG's purchase-card transactions
Unified Government Dias.jpg
Posted at 6:38 PM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 19:38:09-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Amid an ongoing KBI investigation and with its employee purchasing-card transactions under increasing scrutiny, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, announced “several structural changes” to how it will operate moving forward at 5:33 p.m. on the Friday of a holiday weekend.

At the direction of interim County Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee, and after hearing reports from multiple consultants about the UG’s performance in recent months, the UG will realign several departments “as the organization works to identify cost savings and operational efficiencies, a critical next step in closing the budget deficit,” according to a new release.

“As part of UG Forward, I am committed to reimagining the Unified Government for the next 25 years as we address many of the systemic and financial challenges facing our organization,” Harrison-Lee said in a statement. “This realignment will ensure that our management team is working closely with department leaders and staff to find ways to improve service delivery while eliminating wasteful, often redundant operations.”

One of the changes — the resignation of UG Chief Financial Officer Kathleen VonAchen — was reported earlier Friday.

Harrison-Lee also instituted changes to the UG’s purchase-card program last month.

Now, effective immediately and following recommendations made in July to the UG Board of Commissioners, a new interim county administrator was appointed to oversee administrative services.

Becky Berger, who joined the UG as treasurer and director of revenue in January, will assume the newly created role. She will oversee 311 as well as several departments within the Unified Government — including Human Resources, the Clerk’s Office, Budget and Research, Finance, and the Appraiser’s Office.

“By bringing all internal services together under one manager, the Unified Government will be able to continue its work to address areas for improvement in human resources, finances, and general operations,” the UG said in a statement announcing the reorganization.

The three current assistant county administrators will remain: Bridgett Cobbins, public safety; Alan Howze, health and human services; and Brett Deichler, economic and community development.

Deichler was appointed in May on an interim basis.

VonAchen cited the planned restructure in her resignation letter, which was dated Tuesday and addressed to Harrison-Lee.

VonAchen worked as a municipal finance officer for Stockton, California, from January 2008 to March 2011. The city filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

She said in her resignation letter that she witnessed in Stockton “how this organizational structure negatively impacted the fiscal outlook of the municipality. I decided I just can’t accept these changes and continue in this new role.”

Under the restructure, the UG Purchasing Department, which consultants said had issued too many cards to employees and lacked adequate controls on those purchases, will be folded into the Finance Department rather than under the purview of the County Administrator's Office as it had been before.

KCK Mayor Tyrone Garner previously told KSHB 41’s I-Team he and other UG leaders welcomed “any independent outside investigations into any allegations that are nefarious in nature.”

The city of Kansas City, Kansas, general fund faces a budget shortfall of approximately $4 million, “which needs to be rectified for our long-term fiscal health and competitiveness,” according to Harrison-Lee’s announcement.

VonAchen will remain with the UG’s Finance Department through Dec. 14.