December 20, 2014

Reader ‘perplexed’ over Sept. 12 editorial

Jerry Kellog, Sr.
Guest Columnist
After reading The Gardner News Sept. 12 editorial, “OUR VIEW: Number of Gardner’s purchase cards surprising,” I was a bit perplexed. Since there was no expressed implication or allegation of abuse or wrongdoing, I wondered why the newspaper would even bother writing this piece. It appeared to me that last Monday was a rather slow day in the newsroom and I felt the editorial board had the time for a more thorough review of the facts available to them in order to answer the questions they were pondering.
Certainly not having all the answers myself, I decided maybe all us could benefit from some additional information that might help us have a better understanding of the purchase card program. So, I did some research, sent a few emails, made a couple of phone calls and submitted a KORA request to the Gardner City Clerk, requesting that the City Director of Finance answer several questions I had regarding the policy on employee use of purchase cards. Like The Gardner News, I also received a quick and professional response from Director Laura Gourley, with additional information provided by other city staff members.
Please note that, at the request of current City Council members, City administration has made expenditure reports easily accessible for review by anyone since Aug. 1, 2011. Simply click on the link in the Consent Agenda section of the Council Meeting Agenda, which is published on the City website on the Friday preceding each meeting.
There is no basis, in my opinion, for The Gardner News editors to conclude from the expenditure report that city employees frequently take time away from the office to run “to the store” to make impulsive purchases, or for the editors to ponder why items are not procured in bulk to save money and time. Maybe it is more prudent to be penny wise rather than pound foolish, particularly when the lack of appropriate and economical storage space is a concern. As I recall, Parks and Recreation has outgrown its facilities, lacking adequate space for its supplies and equipment to the point of having to utilize self-storage rental units in exchange for advertising opportunities at park facilities.
While examining the expenditure report I noticed that six (not four) “dish soaps” were purchased at one store, on one day, at the same time and by one employee, subsequently confirmed by City Hall as the city’s Building Maintenance Specialist. I called the store manager, who confirmed that a one-time purchase of six large-sized $7 containers of dish soap could be considered buying in bulk. I took the editorial’s advice and asked the store manager if monthly invoices would be preferred rather than credit or purchase card transactions with a service fee. He replied he “did not care one way or the other, as long as the bills are paid on time.” However, I did not contact his corporate office to verify if this was the official company policy.
City Hall told me there are 117 full-time employee positions funded in the current budget. As mentioned in a related Sept. 9 Gardner News article, purchase cards have been issued to 76 employees and by my calculation the aggregate monthly purchasing power of those cards is $193,000, not $250,000, which was confirmed by Ms. Gourley.
Purchases are recorded separately on the expenditure report because there are designated budgetary codes for each of the city’s facilities to which the procured items are distributed, such as the six soaps, which went to City Hall, the Public Works maintenance shop, Gardner Energy administration building, the electric distribution facility, Parks and Recreation maintenance and the Senior Center.
Ms. Gourley said, “In summary, the reason why it appears to be multiple purchases is due to the requirements of governmental fund accounting. Our Building Maintenance Specialist is diligently tracking where the soap is being used because not only is he managing his own Building Maintenance Internal Service Fund budget, but he also is recording where the purchases are being used so that the expense incurred in that internal service fund is charged back to the appropriate fund. (electric purchases from the electric fund, parks from the General Fund, etc; those funds are then transferred to the Building Maintenance Fund as revenues for that internal service fund to use to operate.)”
Ms. Gourley explained to me that the City had, in fact, used the “running a tab” procurement method in the past before switching to the purchase cards process. She stated the previous system was inefficient and even more labor intensive than purchase cards. Instead of oversight, staff had to reconcile accounts with personnel at the businesses and was sometimes issuing checks and incurring mailing costs for tiny purchases – thus, processing costs at times exceeded the purchase prices.
All purchases are made with funds previously budgeted and approved by the City Council and the use of purchasing cards is subject to the City’s purchasing policy. As mentioned in The Gardner News related story on Sept. 9, city administration has internal controls to monitor the use of all cards. Department directors establish the card limits and review every purchase receipt before it goes to the finance department. All purchases are then reviewed again by finance staff and audited by accounting staff. If a questionable purchase is determined to be unwarranted, the City has 20 to 25 days to reject payment.
I asked the Finance Director how a card purchase would be rejected. What happens to the employee, the item(s) procured and the merchant involved?
Ms. Gourley responded, “As with a credit card, the charge is disputed (by phone call) with our p-card provider, UMB. The purchases are placed on “hold” pending investigation by UMB and/or the City. The City pays the p-card invoice less the disputed charges until the issue is resolved. If the charges are fraudulent, UMB will remove them from the City’s invoice… As for what would happen to the merchant, that would depend on the outcome of an investigation.”
“Further, per Human Resource Manager [Mary] Bush, ‘If there were ever wrongdoing by a city employee, finance staff would dispute the charge, and report it to the Human Resource Manager who would launch an investigation. If a determination was made of wrongdoing or fraudulent charges being incurred, the City’s employment attorney would be contacted and appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination would be rendered. This is in accordance with the City of Gardner’s Personnel Policy.’”
Regarding the editorial’s assertion of a “double whammy to the city coffers when purchases are made at businesses that profit from some type of tax abatement,” I admit to having very limited knowledge on abatements, but Ms. Gourley explained to me “retailers aren’t eligible for tax abatements per Kansas statute. Even if one wants to consider ‘tax abatements’ to include those businesses that are in the now-expired downtown enhancement district (which receive tax rebates), most of them are service providers, and the actual retailers are ones that the City has done little business with (with the possible exception of an automotive parts store).”
City Planner Amy Kynard said, “The Downtown Enhancement District was implemented on Dec. 1, 1997 and the last day to apply for a rebate through the program was Dec. 31, 2007. Rebates run for a ten-year period following approval. Twenty-two properties have benefited from rebates through this program (though one was rendered ineligible after receiving two years of rebates due to being delinquent on taxes). To date, these properties have received $767,391 in rebates (Gardner’s portion of that amount totals $142,539).
Many of these properties remain eligible for rebates for future years, so when all is said and done, our projection is that approximately $1,285,000 will have been refunded to these properties through the rebate program, depending on future tax rates (Gardner’s portion would be approximately $255,000).
I don’t have figures on the actual amount these businesses invested in the city, but the increase in improvement valuation among these properties totals $3,932,460. Keep in mind that any natural fluctuations of property values are included in this figure.”
I hope this information aids others in better understanding the subject of the editorial. In my opinion, good journalism should involve examining and reporting both sides of the issues. I appreciate the time-honored tradition of the press being a watchdog on powerful institutions to help ensure our democratic society functions properly, openly, and honestly. However, I feel the efficacy of the watchdog process can become questionable if the public senses bias one way or the other, resulting in the value of the press itself becoming diminished.

Comments

  1. All this over an editorial that argued whether it was prudent for all city employees to have purchase cards. I work at an office that has hundreds of employees and guess what only 6 have charge cards. Yawn!! I’m over it.

  2. Thanks for the clarification Jerry. I appreciate the whole story, which in this case shouldn’t really have been a story to begin with.

  3. I hope citizens keep in mind the Neighborhood Enhancement program results in the biggest loss of tax dollars to our schools but tax dollars are lost also to the County, the State, the library, the Jo. Co. Parks & Rec and the Jo. Co. Community College – that is a loss of tax revenue due the PEOPLE. All handout programs help the chosen and creates a higher tax bill for average citizens resulting in privitizing gains and socializing costs and losses. Cronyism government my friends but many will spin it to make you think it is a good deal. Those business owners who are improving their properties get a fantastic tax break for 10 years or they wouldn’t be applying for them – do you think any of them, if and when they sold their properties, are going to refund the monies they have had refunded to them by paying back to the people in the community and community at large including the whole state these dollars??? I haven’t seen it happen yet and don’t anticipate seeing it. What about the ones who got the refunds and then ended up not paying ANY of their taxes?

    Again, I urge citizens to look carefully at the expenditures. Does any citizen have a problem with feeding and providing drinks to the City Hall bunch over and over and over again??? Does any meeting not involve food and/or drink??? Do you think it is the citizens’ responsbility to provide work clothes and provide cleaning of garments? I had many more questions on expenditures made but does City Hall have the decency to answer my inquiries??? No they don’t – they pick and choose the questions they want to answer – just like they pick and choose the winners but I know one thing – most of the time the average citizen is the loser because they are the ones paying the bills and the City Hall goons don’t govern for them and if you would look at all of the corporate welfare that has transpired, you would know that – that is if you want to see it. Some want to continue the support and enablement of cronyism government, however, I am not one of those – I much prefer some fiscal responsbility which outlaws conflict of interest, not going along with rigged processes, not providing a steady stream of income for the consultants whose high prices we have to cover without getting much bang for our buck or doing services we should be handling, not getting bids, not putting the people at risk such as the benefit districts provided to developers who can and have failed to pay their assessments and then the people get left holding the bag or paying for Walmart’s development costs thru the use of a TIF, not continuing to spend more money than what is coming in resulting in a huge debt we have to service and on and on the list goes.

    It used to be only certain people such as supervisors had the authority to make purchases. Not the case now – now every hot body that shows up for work has a purchase card. Sure expands your exposure to risk in my opinion and I have to wonder what the supervisors are doing with their extra time. I can only hope they have some responsibility in overseeing these purchases.

    City Hall won’t listen to me or my concerns and they have made that abundantly clear and I have made it abundantly clear I don’t appreciate a dictatorship or cronyism government. No respect left between the parties – that is for sure.

  4. Retailers aren't eligible for abatements? says:

    I thought Walmart’s sales tax was hijacked to pay for Walmart infrastructure (tif?) rather than being deposited into the city’s general fund? Do the research Jerry and quit drinking the Drovetta Koolaid, if you shop at a local hardware store, and pay sales tax, where does the sales tax get distributed too? and if you shop for the same amount at Walmart, who gets the money? — and all those purchase convenience fees for the 75 employee purchase cards, where does that money go? Isn’t it a Missouri bank?

  5. Medicare is another government entity that operates on this pay now and check later basis. And the fraud is rampant with this type of management – they will never get the dollars back that are due the people. Risk management I believe is not something that worthless politicians even recognize nor do they want it and the people are paying a high price for all of the fraud, poor management, etc.

    Good ole City Hall doesn’t do anything about the builders, investors, developers who are fraudently claiming farm use on their properties. This fraud is costing the tax payers millions and millions of lost tax revenue. Our City Hall works closely with developers of this kind while putting the people at risk while taking care of the leeches. What are the politicians doing about those 38 businesses in New Century who aren’t paying any taxes or very little of what they should be paying? You don’t see them doing anything about it because they are the ones who brought all of the sweet deals about and it has been going on for years while your tax bill gets higher, higher, higher and you are losing your jobs, houses, health insurance, your life savings, etc. because of the wheeling and dealing of the worthless politicians and the thieves. Take care of those worthless politicians and thieves – I certainly haven’t seen how they have helped the citizens but they will say they have done great things by providing hire and fire jobs with no livable wages, no benefits, no security, no nothing.

    The money mongers of the early 1900’s are still around along with their rotten politicians – just different suits. City Halls and other halls of government continue to operate as they always have because the people are not doing their jobs but continuing to support and enable – much like what Mr. Kellogg and others are doing.

  6. Jerry, thank you for the additional information on this subject. I’m certain there was a great deal of time and effort spent in collecting the data, and provided some very valuable added insight.

  7. I'm perplexed too says:

    Why would you spend so much time on this, Jer? Go solve world hunger.

  8. If it’s boring and doesn’t mean anything to you, Yawn, then why read it? And why take the time to post saying that it’s a waste of time?

    Gardner News certainly thought it was worth investigating. Or maybe half-investigating. Were you yawning and posting about yawning then, too?

    As for charge cards, most employees don’t ever have the need of purchasing goods for their work or workplace, so it’s not surprising, Yawn, that your company doesn’t issue very many. On the surface, the number Gardner issues seems like a lot, but the explanation given, particularly the cost savings involved, is at least somewhat reasonable.

  9. Once again you see the same ole lowlife recallers supporting what goes on at City Hall………..I hate to think what they could be doing and these same old standbys would be saying good job, Charlie Brown and blasting anyone or any media source that speaks out about their concerns and doing their fear and intimidation methods on you or running business off from you or blackballing you from service clubs, etc., etc……..no surprises – same ole games……….they will be in line to get into the First Family Churches too with the likes of Johnston leading the flock or should I say fleecing the flock…….drink the koolaid, citizens and/or pick your poison……….I just don’t like it, however, when these parties’ words, actions and inaction adversely affect me and other decent people in the community.

  10. Doing all this “research” gives Jerry purpose. Notice how everyone strokes his ego, pats him on the head and says good boy.

  11. Who pays you? says:

    What is Mr. Kellogg’s position with the city? His bias is obvious, as is his lack of fact-checking. Thank you Gardner News for publishing Mr. Kellogg’s letter despite its blatant pandering.

  12. what's truly amazing says:

    Is how many people took the time to read (or pretend to read) Kellogg’s column, and then insult him for taking the time to write about it. What’s more pointless, Kellogg writing a long column, or people reading and saying it’s a waste of time.

    Even funnier is the fact that none of these people seemed to have similar insults when Gardner News wrote the original article. Who pays Gardner News for publishing its own poorly-done “research”, despite its blatant pandering to the “I hate Gardner” set?

    It’s obvious from all the comments that the Koolaid crowd out here is following in lockstep to their patron saint, Westboro Judith “Phelps”. All you guys need are signs that read “God…i mean Judith Hates…everything!”.

  13. Yawn.

  14. There’s enough name calling in this town for everyone to take blame. At least Ms. Rogers, Mr. Kellogg and a few others use their real names. Respect them for that. I don’t use my name. Who wants everyone taking pot shots at them? We did not do a good job or raising our youth to have manners.

  15. Senior’s right. Let’s lighten things up a bit.

    Hey Yawn, I saw this and thought of you.

    Yawning For Brain Temperature Regulation? (http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/008295.html). It must be chilly where you are. lol

  16. Thank you Mr. Kellog for taking the time to write this article. While it is commendable that Gardner News published it, it does not excuse the shoddy journalism they routinely produce.

  17. if it’s shoddy, why read it? you all spend a lot of time complaining.

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