The Missourian solicited written answers to a set of nine questions from the six candidates for the Columbia City Council.
Bill Weitkemper, Jim Meyer and Andrea Waner are seeking a three-year term representing the Second Ward, while incumbent Betsy Peters and challengers Randy Minchew and Philip Merriman are competing to represent the Sixth Ward. The election is April 6.
Here are the candidates’ answers to the following question:
Do you support a performance audit of city government by the State Auditor’s Office? Why or why not?
Waner: Any sort of audit — fiscal or performance — works to make the city operate in a more effective and transparent manner. In this instance, a performance audit will be crucial to regaining the trust from the public for how our city handles its finances. The internal audits we have been doing don’t accomplish the goal of having fresh eyes on how we do business and getting comments from a disinterested third party. I believe a thorough and impartial audit is worth the cost.
Weitkemper: Yes. There are many ordinances that have either been incorrectly applied or just simply ignored by city staff. 27-111. – Electricity (an ordinance since 1964): Each residential dwelling unit must have a separate meter through which electricity supplied to the unit shall be measured for billing. Metering of electricity supplying more than one unit through a single meter (master metering) is prohibited. By 1967, the city was allowing “master metering” of residential dwelling units if the units were constructed on property that was zoned commercial. There never has been a definition for a commercial dwelling unit in the city code. 12A-151 includes the following: Where there is no water, electric, sewage or refuse collection utility customer for a parcel of developed land, the stormwater utility charge shall be billed to the property owner. I owned 65 rental properties for 26 years and never received a stormwater charge for a vacant unit.
Meyer: I do support a wide ranging performance audit by the state. It is important that a government entity undergo such an audit periodically and that it be performed by a higher public entity with its own duties to the public and that is independent from the leadership of the entity being audited. A performance audit should assess whether the entity is achieving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the employment of available resources instead of just whether prescribed procedures are being followed. Such an audit should also challenge the assumptions and goals of procedures, with an eye toward improvement. The costs of such an audit are not great in the context of an organization with an annual budget of nearly $430 million. It is important that such an audit have a clear set of objectives to measure against and should be wide ranging rather than narrowly focused.
Merriman: Yes and no. We need to keep our local officials accountable — especially after their abuse of Columbia residents in 2020. But one of the biggest problems with our city government is how it manages its finances. Columbia collects too many taxes and spends too much of that money in ways that do not help Columbians. Spending large amounts of money to fund an audit that will likely yield no new information is difficult to justify.
Peters: No, I support a rolling audit of the city finances. A rolling three-year audit of the city finances (which is currently being done) is a manageable audit. Recommendations from the audit firm can be implemented (as is currently happening), and the City Council is kept up to date on what recommended improvements are being implemented. This allows us to actually implement consultants’ recommendations. The city already has good reports from the yearly external audits required by the federal government. We can always look for ways to improve the way the city works, and the rolling audit accomplishes that goal.
Minchew: Absolutely. The general public perceives there to be a problem with transparency and proper reporting. The only way to satisfy the taxpayers is to have the state perform an audit.
Missourian reporters Dylan Schwartz, Anna Ortega, Paul Schloesser, Charlie Drape, Alexandria Wells and Kelsy Armstrong helped gather candidate responses to the Missourian questionnaire.