Here's a budget question for Coeur d'Alene officials: How much is the public's confidence worth?
This question isn't aimed at any of myriad political targets. It's a question that addresses the bottom line not just of city finances, but of taxpayers' peace of mind in light of the theft of $365,000 of their money.
Since discovery of the embezzlement from a longtime Finance Department employee over more than half a dozen years, city officials have acted appropriately and as openly as they could about the crime. Perhaps there is more they could do to instill taxpayer confidence in their stewardship, but let's retrace what's happened so far.
Together, Mayor Sandi Bloem, City Attorney Mike Gridley, Finance Director Troy Tymesen, City Administrator Wendy Gabriel and others contacted The Press to disclose what they knew about the embezzlement almost immediately after its discovery. The officials did not give the employee's name because personnel rules prohibited it. A little later, The Press used other means to determine which employee in the department had been suspended.
The officials didn't say how much had been stolen, primarily because at that point, they didn't know. An investigation that would take several months had just been launched. As information became available, the city shared it with The Press, which immediately shared it with the public.
The biggest missing link, that the employee had been convicted of stealing from a private company in Oregon years before, was discovered by good old investigative journalism. City officials were unaware of that prior crime - something that likely would have been detected if the city had employed extensive background checks all along.
Because city officials reported the crime quickly and as thoroughly as they could, then implemented important safeguards to minimize the chance of future embezzling, we aren't certain punishing anybody besides the thief would serve any purpose. The question city officials now face is how much further should they go - and to what expense - to ensure their increased security is secure enough.
A forensic audit could cost $100,000, but in light of a massive, prolonged theft, that expense would be more justified than, say, similar dollars dedicated to public relations and assorted consultants. While the public's confidence obviously can't be bought, wise investment in stronger security could have great value.