It's been nine months since Metro reluctantly consented to a financial audit by Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill. And to McCaskill's dismay, her office expects another nine months to pass before it makes any findings public.
"Some in Metro are being helpful, and some are obstructionists, and it's taking more time than I had wanted to," McCaskill told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month. In the meantime, the cash-strapped regional transit agency wants to charge McCaskill for access to its books.
Metro sent its first bill to McCaskill's office on February 21 with an accompanying letter from John Noce, Metro's senior vice president and chief financial officer. The letter stated: "The Agency has incurred out-of-pocket expenses and staff time in conjunction with the Audit. Staff time will be billed at a later date. Kindly requisition funds for the enclosed invoice and remit payment as indicated."
Noce requested $5,239.50, to be paid by March 22.
McCaskill's spokeswoman, Samantha Brewer, calls the invoice a "mistake."
"Obviously we didn't pay it or anything," Brewer says. "There was a little bit of confusion. We just called [Metro] and corrected it."
Not so, counters Adella Jones, Metro's vice president of government and community affairs. "There was no mistake," she maintains. "As we understood it, when the auditor first began talking about doing this audit, we would not incur a cost. We billed them for external costs."
Jones says McCaskill requested work papers associated with audits that the St. Louis accounting firm Mayer Hoffman McCann PC conducted for Metro's Board of Commissioners in 2004 and 2005. Metro had to pony up more than $5,000 to acquire the documents.
"That bill," adds Jones, "is for external work-product, and it's nothing compared to what it costs for our internal staff to stop their regular duties and work with [the auditor's office]. That figure can't even begin to be calculated."
McCaskill, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator, proposed the audit in March 2005 following public outcry over the Cross County MetroLink Extension, for which cost overruns now total $126 million. Metro balked at the auditor's request, arguing that a government audit would jeopardize Metro's ongoing lawsuit against the Cross County Collaborative, a joint venture that formerly handled construction and project management services for the expansion.
Jones says Metro fully expects the auditor's office to remit payment. "They may decide they don't want to pay, but they haven't said anything yet," she notes. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Kristen Hinman