The city auditor's office will examine whether appointees are filling out conflict of interest forms as required by city charter.

Are all of Kansas City’s board and commission members filling out required conflict of interest forms? Do those forms include the necessary questions to determine whether a conflict exists?

The Kansas City, Missouri, auditor’s office is now examining those questions in a new audit that’s a follow-up to a 2019 inquiry that found multiple VisitKC board members weren’t filling out conflict of interest forms.

The audit comes after City Auditor Douglas Jones told The Beacon he shared its recent investigation on potential conflicts of interest within the Kansas City Land Bank board with his staff.

The Beacon investigation revealed that even when board members are filling out the forms, potential conflicts of interest can fly under the radar. Former Kansas City Land Bank Chair Julie Anderson completed forms for fiscal years 2017 and 2021 stating she did not have any conflicts to disclose. None of the questions flagged that she represented Land Bank buyers in court eviction proceedings.

After The Beacon’s investigation, Anderson was replaced on the board by LaDonna Gooden, a FUSE Fellow for Economic Development working with the mayor’s office.

“Our methods include interviewing city staff or contacts and board members, reviewing city code and submitted disclosure reports, and evaluating whether the current disclosure report contains all requirements from city code,” Jones said in a presentation to the Kansas City Council.

Board and commission members wield significant power in city government. They’re often responsible for influencing and spending city dollars, and more than 50 boards and commissions require conflict of interest forms as a result. According to Jones, 14 boards and commissions oversaw combined spending of about $328 million in fiscal year 2018. 

The auditor’s office plans to release the just-announced report in April. It will be the second KCMO audit related to boards and commissions over the past two years — an audit in 2020 found that board seats were vacant and that no formal process was in place to help appointing officials.

In the report, the auditor’s office noted that it intended to “use the work and information gained from this audit to conduct future audits on other board-related topics such as transparency and accountability, purpose and activity, or governance assessment.”

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Emily Wolf was a local government accountability reporter with a focus on telling meaningful stories through data at The Kansas City Beacon. She was a Report for America corps member.