Why Won't City Hall Count Its Money? Because Then Someone Would Be Accountable.

Categories: Schutze

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The cops still aren't counting the cash drawer. Unbelievable. A decade after Dallas Police got caught running a massive scam out of their cash accounts, deliberately framing innocent people on fake drug charges in order to manipulate payments to fake informants, the Dallas city auditor has reported that the narcotics division never implemented the accounting reforms needed to guard against a recurrence.

In spite of an agreement to fix it after previous bad audits, the narcs still have a broken cash system that "permits officers to complete transactions from beginning to end without proper audit trails, transparency and accountability," City Auditor Craig D. Kinton said in a new audit sent to the City Council last Friday.

Wait. Wait. That's only part of it. Kinton's audit found that City Hall routinely ignores critical findings in audits of all its departments. It agrees to adopt reforms and then does nothing but says it did.

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So, basically, we think City Manager Mary Suhm just said it's not worth fretting over a little bit of stealing.
Kinton looked at 58 reforms called for in city audits between 2009 and 2011. City staff told him it had adopted 53 of the reforms. Kinton found they had put in place only 18 of the reforms.

For anybody who has followed City Hall over time, some of these failures might seem to defy logic. For example, the city employees who run Fair Park still can't count the money they're supposed to collect under contract with various vendors and institutions. Oh, and in some cases they forget to even have a contract. Darn it: had a contract, it lapsed, got busy, just forgot to get a new one, but the vendor or institution is still out there selling tickets, so City Hall just sort of hopes they'll drop by with some money once in a while.
In other words, City hall is dependent on the kindness of vendors. Wow. Interesting concept.

Could this stuff happen anywhere? Well, sure. Once. But the point about Fair Park, for example, is that an inability to count the money is a tradition that stretches back for decades. The question would be this: About the 10th time somebody points out to you don't have a way to count the money, why on earth would you not hurry up and find a way to count the money??

Go back to the narcotics cops thing. The fake drugs scandal in 2001-2002 should have been the very worst kind of searing trauma any heads-up police department in America could endure. Sworn Dallas peace officers, people wearing the badge, put utterly innocent victims in prison for years on trumped up drug charges. They paid $210,000 to one phony informant alone for phony evidence.

Only one cop was ever convicted, and we never did get a good picture of where all that money went. But c'mon. This was a police nightmare. A special commission afterward called for all kinds of reforms. It wasn't just Kinton. People all over the country were talking about it.

So a decade later how can it even be possible that the narcs still have their hands in the cash drawer and nobody's counting? How can it be that Fair Park still can't count its money or enforce its contracts?

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm told The Dallas Morning News that she just doesn't agree with a lot of the reforms called for by the auditor and sometimes thinks it would cost too much to put them in place. "Sometimes it's too much money for protecting against too little risk."

Too little risk? The fake drugs scandal happening again? That's too little risk? It happened once, didn't it? The controls everybody said we needed to make sure it never happens again still are not in place. So why couldn't it happen again? How is that "too little risk?"

And wait a minute. If you think the reforms are too expensive and you don't want to do them, why don't you say they're too expensive and you're not going to do them? But that's not at all what this new study found.

Kinton asked city staff if they had done the reforms. Of 58 he studied, staff said sure, they had done all but five of the 58. But when Kinton looked, he found the number of reforms not carried out was not five. It was 40.

So what's the explanation for that? We thought it would cost too much; it was too expensive for too little risk; so we set our pants on fire and lied about it?

Look, the answer here is that this consistent failure over time to implement transparent accounting does not actually defy logic. It's a question of whose logic you're talking about. Yes, city staff is dependent on the kindness of vendors. But that coin has another side. Those vendors also are dependent on the kindness of city staff.

The accounting text books will tell you there are two major accounting methods in the world of finance -- cash basis and accrual. Wrong. Dallas City Hall operates on a third accounting method -- nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

Loose accounting persists at City Hall because loose accounting works in the interest of city management and certain privileged interests. Loose accounting has everything to do with the way City Hall survives, works it will and thumbs its nose at the elected officials whom city staff deride behind their hands as "the summer help." But it also has to do with the way some lucky people get what they want from City Hall.

You could go in there tomorrow, put the whole thing on some corporate equivalent of Quicken, put it on-line and let everybody in the world watch every nickel come in and go out. But if you did that, city staff would lose every inch of its wriggle room and so would the people outside who want those nickels for their signature bridges and other baubles.

It's all symptomatic of this buck-stops-nowhere city manager system we're stuck with in Dallas. It actually works like a damn McDonald's if you're a wired-up developer, an old major-bucks family or a big company that wants a free golf course for its executives. Push the right button and out it pops -- one golf course, coming up. Fries with that? Horse park?

A fired city auditor once told me if you put cash in a drawer and then make sure everybody knows you are never going to count that drawer, you must assume the money is already stolen. Gone. Tragically no longer with us.

I don't know. I don't know if I believe this is about clerks with Swiss bank accounts. It's about keeping nudge-nudge, wink-wink alive, the old ways. The money in those uncounted drawers is just available when somebody needs it, and that somebody is seldom you or me. We just put the money in. I don't really know whose kindness you and I are dependent on. Our dogs maybe?


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16 comments
TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

With fake drug scams and traffic cams and council-folk all in their rows...

roo_ster
roo_ster

Jim:

That sort of thing is by design.  One more reason to favor small, non-intrusive government is that is provides fewer opportunities for graft & corruption.  The bigger the gov't, the harder it is to account for and the harder it is to rein in.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

It is Management 101 that states the rigor you use to track your funds sets the tone for the organization. It is a necessary but not sufficient data point for a satisfactory, not outstanding organization. Yet in almost every Dallas City, County organization including DISD, the exec message is we are too busy doing good to worry about that stuff. That "stuff" prevents constables from running towing slush funds, sheriff's from making side deals with vendors, school employees from using corporate cards for personal goods, and on and on. It is why I call BS anytime someone wants to laud a senior manager in Dallas (fill in the blank) government for years of sterling service. If they spent years in these systems, by definition they cannot be good managers and executives. Does anybody hire an exec from Dallas (fill in the blank) government? Almost never and when they do, they quickly regret it. Our execs do not know how to manage. If you cannot manage, you cannot lead a large organization.

marianagriggs
marianagriggs

Jim,

I'm glad you are beginning to see the big picture. As one commenter pointed out, she needs to keep 8 council people happy at any one time. You have to squirrel away some millions to keep people constantly bickering about race, north and south and don't forget the tollway and supposed economic development. It doesn't matter who gets elected if Momma Mary is ruling the roost. She probably stays up at night calling council members to remind them to hate each other, then they can't get together to fire her for mismanaging the money. You don't account for the money if it is the main way you keep your job-by doling it out to the one who will raise hell and keep our city divided. I think its time for her to go. As I recall, Chief Kunkle has some city manager experience......

MG

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

So much for, "a nation of laws", or "everyone is equal before the law."  2 legged trash with badges.

UnCoverUp
UnCoverUp

The corruption in North Texas local governments runs throughout--from dirty cops to dirty state and federal judges, only the "fix" price changes depending on the fair market value of the honest services frauds these corrupt government employees are selling.

BobStinson
BobStinson

Mayor Suhm is not the problem per say, but oversight of her and her office - you know, the City Council's job - is irreparably broken. It's the same problem we had with her predecessors.

14-1 will not pass w/o major concessions from all parts of the political machine. IOW, it won't happen no matter who is jailed. How about a ballot initiative that proposes to elect the City Manager instead?

timdickey
timdickey

I'm still waiting to find out who stole that $50,000 from the police drug locker years ago, when only eight people had the key. 

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

The honorable Mary Suhm should have been fired loooooong ago, but no one has the balls to do it, because it takes 12 votes and they are all afraid of the 'hell' that she would impose on them before the vote.

Combine that with Dallas media who refuse to go after her. Probably because of the 'hell' she would raise at the DCC and we all know how far their tentacles run. By the way, how about that great DCC meeting yesterday that was conducted in honor of Kay Bailey H? Not reporting on that?

datsneefa
datsneefa

Oil is to water asPolice are to accountability

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

why implement safeguards when no one will be held responsible?  Because there is no risk in that case

glenn03a
glenn03a

Jim, when you stopped by The Old Mill for lunch, did they know how to operate the cash register ?

plfarmer
plfarmer

@roo_ster Or you have a company town, with no recourse, no election to change things.

The government has to be the biggest bully in town. Thet are the only ones we get to vote on.

observist
observist topcommenter

@datsneefa Police float on top of accountability, and can be soaked up with a paper towel or skimmed off with a wide flat spoon?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@glenn03a 

Dunno. They were open. But they said they were closed. The sign outside said they were out of business. But another sign said, "Open." I got the feeling they were waiting for me to give them a secret handshake.

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