Parente: Error ‘would have eventually been found’
A Parkville resident caught what city officials explained as an “accounting error” in expense reports and is causing him to question city protocols for expenses and catching such errors.
Brett Krause noticed an $807.07 charge for a Bluetooth headset for City Administrator Joe Parente but knew such a headset should cost about $80. When questioned by email, City Clerk Melissa McChesney said the amount was “entered incorrectly” and instead should have been $87.07.
“We are working on correcting the error,” she wrote of the expense.
Krause said during a telephone interview that while he understands that “mistakes can happen,” he also questions about how the error occurred and why it wasn’t caught before it appeared as a line item in an accounts payable expense report in the packet of the Parkville Board of Aldermen.
In an email to The Landmark, Parente said “the city did not overpay for the computer equipment and the accounting error would have eventually been found.” Parente said the accounting error “was related to a data entry made into the city’s accounts payable accounting system by the staff person responsible for performing this task.” The city’s eight-member board of aldermen routinely votes on city expenses in “consent agenda” items in which expenses are approved as a group and not usually discussed individually. “The error would have been discovered during the reconciliation of monthly bank statements against the city’s financial statements, tasks performed by the city’s director of finance and city treasurer,” Parente wrote. “Unfortunately, these types of errors do occur from time to time but are corrected when discovered as financials are reconciled.”
However, Parkville resident Gordon Cook, a contract chief financial officer, who has sparred with city officials over financial practices in previous board of aldermen meetings, said strong “internal controls are designed to prevent errors from occurring,” Cook added, “You should not rely on reconciliation by two top officers (finance director and treasurer) to catch an error like that,” Cook said during a telephone interview.
Cook added that “somebody should look at that long before it goes to the board of aldermen” for a vote. Otherwise, he said, “it’s too late and there’s no guarantee you’ll catch it.” He added that the board of aldermen should not be counted on to discover such errors because consent agendas constitute “a routine stamp of approval.” Cook said: “Personally, I would place no reliance on this element of internal control.” Cook said the issue causes him to question the “frequency” and “magnitude” of these types of errors.
Cook has questioned aldermen concerning the amount of debt the city has accumulated as well as the amount of the administrative allocation from the general fund to the sewer fund.
In responding to questions, Parente added that the city’s purchasing policy gives department heads the authority to purchase up to $2,500 and the city administrator can purchase up to $10,000. He explained that the finance department “exercises general oversight over the city’s purchasing of goods and services.” In response to another question posed by The Landmark about how city officials make purchases, Parente said the city issues credit cards for staff, but “also would reimburse an employee for the use of a personal credit card.”
By deadline, Parente had not responded to an emailed question from The Landmark about whether the Bluetooth headset purchase was made using the city’s card or Parente’s personal account for reimbursement.
A Nov. 17 post on the city’s website touts the budget process, stating the city was honored with a distinguished budget presentation award for the sixth straight year.
“The Distinguished Budget Presentation Award is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting,” the post states, adding that “the city had to satisfy nationally recognized guidelines for effective budget presentation.” The city was assessed for how well the budget serves as a “policy document, financial plan, operations guide and communications device.”
In the post, Parente said he’s “proud of the commitment of the governing body and city staff to meet the highest principles of governmental budgeting.” The post ends with an invitation to review the city’s 2021 budget by visiting parkvillemo.gov/government.financialdocuments.
Krause said this issue and others have prompted him to question how the city manages money. He emailed a Sunshine request to McChesney for information about who is paying city officials’ legal fees during a criminal investigation by the sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement agencies but has not yet received a response. As for the city’s financial processes, he said, “I’m thinking we’ve got a problem here.”