Monday, March 02, 2015

R-8 audit shows millions wasted to boost C. J. Huff's image, power

They buried the lead.

You can't blame a state auditing team for not knowing that in any good reporting you start off with a lead that will grab the reader's attention.

When I first examined the citizen summary of the Joplin R-8 State Audit this afternoon, I have to admit I was disappointed. I have reported on so many misuses of taxpayer dollars and so many costly flights of egotistical fancy from Superintendent C. J. Huff and his rubber stamp Board of Education that when I saw prominent placement given to items like concession stand money and school stores I thought the audit was a bust and that the Huff Administration and Anne Sharp and the rubber stampers had been given a license to milk the taxpayers for eternity.

When I took the time to examine the audit carefully, a true picture began forming- this document is a major indictment of C. J. Huff and, in fact, touches on several areas I have been writing about for months and some that I have never touched on.

None of it looks good for the self-proclaimed hero of the Joplin Tornado.

The auditors were critical of the eight million dollars in "might-as-well" spending that Huff added to the cost of building the high school. At a time when he is already predicting that the fund balance will dip to eight percent, Huff thinks nothing of spending millions on artificial turf for practice fields, concession stands, an extra track, more tennis courts, and lighting for all of the fields at the high school. It is no secret that most of the planning for the educational part of the high school was done by Huff's former Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer. The "might-as-well" spending put Huff's eight million dollar stamp on an already overpriced building.

Another item that I overlooked the first time was the more than $4 million  Huff spent in an unsuccessful effort to repeat his 2011 post-tornado promise of starting school on time. 

(T)he construction manager incurred acceleration costs to ensure the high school and technical center would open on time for the 2013-2014 (sic) despite delays from site remediation of an old abandoned mine at the building site. The district did not obtain adequate supporting documentation to ensure payments to the construction manager were reasonable and comply with the contract provisions for the general conditions fees and acceleration costs.

While other construction invoices are reviewed by the construction manager prior to district review, only the district is responsible for reviewing the construction manager's invoices so it is important the district receive detailed information to do this effectively. General conditions fees and acceleration costs totaled $1,474,489 and $2,788,146 as of November 2014, respectively, for the school construction projects.

The audit also touched on another subject that it has been written about on this blog- C. J. Huff's biggest vanity project- Bright Futures USA.

The audit noted that Bright Futures USA, which we have always been told is a not-for-profit which is not associated with the school in any way, is being allowed to use taxpayer-financed facilities without paying any rent or utilities.

While we have often been told how Bright Futures USA came into being because of the need after the Joplin Tornado, the idea of going national started long before the tornado. Documents filed in the Missouri Secretary of State's office show Bright Futures USA was incorporated in November 2010, a full six months before the tornado and only seven months after Bright Futures Joplin was formed.

The incredible amount of money spent on travel, another subject which has been touched on frequently in this blog, was mentioned prominently in the audit. That amount, of course, included the at least $89,000 Huff told the Joplin Globe had been spent on "thank-you" travel where he hopscotched around the United States thanking those who helped Joplin after the tornado (and telling them how he declared that school would start on time and lifted the spirits of everyone in the city).

The auditors recorded that during a three-year period, the district spent nearly one million dollars, $345,877 in 2011-2012, $302,860 in 2012-2013, and $349,952 in 2013-2014 for travel.

It does not appear that C. J. Huff or the Board of Education took any steps to cut down on the excessive travel to save money at a time when fund balances were already predicted to dip to eight percent. Just let them keep falling and then, somehow, miraculously, we will have a 25 percent fund balance sometime in the near future.

The Joplin R-8 state audit is not going to send anybody to prison. Many of the other things that Huff has come under criticism for could be filed away under poor leadership, bullying, and sheer self-indulgence, but when you have a Board of Education that wants nothing more than to bask in the glory of this self-appointed hero, there is not much even state auditors can do.

Make no mistake about it, this audit is an indictment of C. J. Huff and the Joplin R-8 Board of Education.

Now it is time for the voters to take the next step.
 How did we get into this situation. The entire story will be told when my book, Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: How Greed and Corruption Destroyed the Joplin Tornado Recovery is published sometime in May. Learn how the City of Joplin and the Joplin R-8 School District started down their current paths in my approximately 100-page preview available at the link below from Amazon Kindle.


Anonymous said...

Right there you have a total of $13 million in excessive spending, which just happens to equal the amount Huff unwisely expected from Wallace-Bajali: $8 million might as well on sports, and we keep getting reminded by another poster that the tennis courts are non-regulation and only useful for practice, $4 million in partly futile acceleration payments, and $1 in travel through the spring of 2014.

Huff sure looks like a spendthrift who doesn't get results, a common pattern.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe this man is still here. What more does his Board need to see? Unbelievable. Think what could have really been done "for our kids" had so much money not been wasted. Or for that matter, what taxpayers could have done with that money "for their kids" had they not forked it over to CJ to waste. This must stop.

Anonymous said...

Being in open violation of the Sunshine Law so many times ain't no small potatoes, either. It reflects a huge disregard for the community and for the law. That's why CJ is able to stay so long, because the elected officials on the board have no ethics, either.

Anonymous said...


When it's about the main idea of a news story the word is lede not lead. *

The lead is what the Glob uses to set their type with. I wonder if the Glob target market is
paint chip eaters? The Globs use of leads would be a twofer!


Randy said...

It is not quite as definitive as you are indicating. There has been a movement over the last three decades to get away from the word "lede," primarily because it is journalistic jargon and leads readers to believe that the writer misspelled the word, not that he is using an outdated journalistic term.If it leads the story, it is the lead.

Anonymous said...

Penalties — 610.027
If the court finds a public governmental body has violated the Sunshine Law, it may declare void
any action taken in violation of the law. If the court finds a member of a public governmental
body has purposely violated the Sunshine Law, the court shall:
● Subject the member or body to a civil fine of up to $500; and may
● Order the member or body to pay all costs and reasonable attorney fees to any party
successfully establishing a violation.
If a public governmental body has any doubt about the legality of closing a particular meeting,
record or vote, it may bring suit in the circuit court to determine whether the action is proper or it
may seek a formal opinion from its own attorney, or from the Attorney General.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I know lead is common usage now.

I'm not claiming to be an expert of any kind, but I've seen a number of audit and investigation reports, some of which led to federal indictments and convictions. In my anonymous internet opinion that citizen's summary is damning.

The thing average people don't realize about audits is how reserved the language appears to be. Auditors report and leave it for others to interpret and act.

If you have read audits this one uses the big hammer. Repeatedly.
That's why the cash handling and school store inventory practices really tell you what the auditors found.

Lack of receipts and documentation when handling cash and inventory is a management failure at the most basic level. The shortcomings in cash handling and inventory controls are such that if thefts have or were to occur it would be hard to document who stole how much. Not to mention it might be difficult to collect the evidence to prosecute someone.

There are other management failures, but this is quite literally the gang that can't or won't count.

"The district does not have an internal audit function to audit its numerous cash collection points and compliance and policy requirements."

"The district does not issue tickets to those who attend district athletic events or have another method to account for attendees, and as a result has no method to reconcile collections to deposit and ensure all receipts are deposited. Further the district does not maintain inventory records of concession items purchased, sold or on hand. The district also has not adequately segregated the duties of receiving, recording, and depositing or transmitting monies at any of the 5 schools auditors visited or perform documented reviews of accounting records."

The above show a surprising allowance of the practices which both tempt theft, and help conceal it when it occurs. Only fools think it won't happen to them, especially with such lax cash handling procedures.

The following can happen only with a clueless board and management, or a board and management which knowingly pursues this type of practice for whatever reasons.

"The district used the same provider to serve as both financial advisor and bond underwriter for all bond and lease participation certificates, and sold general obligation bonds and lease participation certificates using a negotiated sale rather than a competitive bid process."

The reason the above is in the citizen's summary is because allowing the same folks to wear two hats in complicated multimillion dollar financial transactions usually doesn't work out to the taxpayer's advantage.

One word auditors rarely use in reference to the organization being audited is "bankruptcy" instead one sees the "going concern" discussion or disclosure.

Auditors usually don't say "conflict of interest" either.

The accountants might translate this audit to education speak as "We don't expel people, and they haven't been expelled yet, but the paperwork on some of what they might have done is missing and they have a metric a$$ton of makeup work to do."

Anonymous said...

"but the paperwork on some of what they might have done is missing and they have a metric a$$ton of makeup work to do.""

Expelled? Who are you referring to as missing paperwork? The last paragraph is somewhat confusing, would you mind expounding on it a little? Thank you.