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Kanner can't confirm fired manager's claims

PHOENIX — Allegations of a lack of checks and balances and possible financial malfeasance in city government made by a former city manager can’t be substantiated, interim Manager Dave Kanner reported to the Phoenix City Council Monday.

But the city could improve in a number of areas, he concluded.

Former City Manager Jamie McLeod, who was fired March 8, published her concerns in a memo to the council prior to a public performance review. Kanner said the allegations lacked specifics so he could not follow up. Mayor Chris Luz asked Kanner to investigate and report back on the issues raised within 45 days after he was hired March 23.

“There are quite a few gaps in the city administrative process,” said Kanner, who made suggestions and will propose procedures to the council to address issues.

Kanner talked with all current department heads, former planning director Matt Brinkley, former finance director Steve Weber and former city managers Steve Dahl and Jane Turner during his investigation.

“It’s not clear what is specifically meant by a lack of checks and balances or limited functional processes,” said Kanner. “These are very broad and vague allegations that I can’t investigate without specifics.”

Kanner contacted McLeod by email but she declined to participate and suggested he seek assistance from Oregon State Police or the Oregon Department of Justice.

To address a “serious lack” of checks and balances raised by McLeod, Kanner said he will propose addition of another staff position in the administrative department. A 2011 audit noted a lack of checks and balances, but the subsequent audit noted significant improvement in that area.

“In any small organizations there’s going to be a concern about lack of redundancy. You just don’t have enough staff,” said Kanner, adding he would like to create a new position in the Administrative Department in the next budget cycle.

Kanner also reviewed reports back to 2011, current personnel records, check registers and accounts in the current fiscal year, and city attorney billing records in the current year.

Allegations that Luz had City Attorney Ryan Kirchoff advise him on personal legal matters could not be substantiated from the billings. But Kanner said the investigation pointed to a need for procedures on when and by whom the city attorney is consulted. Concerns about violating public meetings and record laws raised by McLeod also lacked details, said Kanner.

“I was quite surprised the city didn’t have a code of ethics,” said Kanner. Such a code should apply to both elected officials and to staff, he added.

Allegations that a document may have been removed from a personnel file may stem from one incident, Kanner found. Dahl told Kanner he removed a draft placed in a personnel file when he determined that the draft violated a collective bargaining agreement.

No evidence of malfeasance or misappropriation of city funds was found in his investigation, Kanner wrote in a report. City auditors also found no indications of impropriety.

A 2016 best-practices review by insurer City/County Insurance Services gave the city a 100 percent score in financial controls. But Kanner has asked it to come back to do another review, a service provided without charge. He also said the city should adopt procedures in financial areas to address gaps.

The council agreed not to spend an estimated $3,800 on a payroll audit by the insurance company at the suggestion of Luz, who said he’d rather save the money. Luz said the payroll audit should take place only if other audits and the best-practices review find something worth pursuing.

“Human beings make errors. How you address those is important,” said Council President Bruce Sophie. “We are catching those mistakes and correcting them.”

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.