COLUMBIA, Mo. - Residents of Columbia on Monday updated the city council on their progress potentially forcing a state audit of the city government.
Maria Oropallo, chair of the Finance Advisory and Audit Committee, said she received a petition from the Missouri State Auditor's Office in late 2018. She and others are gathering the needed 5,000 signatures to give the office in order to have the state conduct a performance audit.
The city council has debated for a year whether or not to ask the state to audit city finances on their own. A state audit could cost the city $500,000 to $750,000 and take up to a year to complete.
She was inspired to ask for the state audit after the city left several vacancies in its finance department, and a lack of experienced CPAs managing the city's funds. She said a performance audit would help the city and its residents understand and catch fraud and abuse of tax dollars.
"It really is about 'Can we be better? Can our money be spent better?'" Oropallo told ABC 17 News.
The city last week filled an internal auditor position that had been vacant for a year. Interim City Manager John Glascock told ABC 17 News that he hired Carey Bryce to work for the city starting Feb. 4. Bryce last worked as an auditor for the city of Oceanside, California. Glascock said she will make $55,075 a year.
Oropallo said she liked the hire, but felt a full city audit should be left for a team of investigators.
"I find it hard to accept that one person knows finance, planning, electric, water," Oropallo said. "We have a lot of industries that we are working with."
The city council discussed the internal auditor position during budget sessions in September. Former city manager Mike Matthes said he had not filled the position since Jan. 2018 because he was considering using the money to fund a new position. Council members asked Matthes to renew the search for an internal auditor.
Glascock told ABC 17 News that Matthes had narrowed down the list of candidates before he resigned in November. Glascock said he interviewed the finalists and made the job offer.
The internal auditor is responsible for "internal protective and constructive audits of the controls, financial records, administrative procedures and operations of City departments in accordance with guidelines established by the City Manager," according to a previously posted job description. The internal auditor reports directly to the city manager.
The city council turned down Mayor Brian Treece's idea to move the internal auditor position from the city manager's purview to the city council's management. Treece argued that the council would get financial information faster and would allow the council to provide a greater check on how the city spent money.
Treece said on Monday that he still supported a state audit, despite the new internal auditor hire, echoing Oropallo's point on a team of investigators being needed to examine city finances.