Monday, July 12, 2010

Audits, loose change and such...

Reading the following entry in the City Manager's report of July 2 led me to recall an anecdote told to me a few months ago.
And then I read this related entry in the July 9 report:
If you have been around Lake Worth long enough and have been paying attention, we have had a "speckled" history, and that is being kind, as it relates to audit reports on the city's financial reporting systems.  Each one seems to come up with a new list of "exceptions" to the audit reports that essentially says, "but for" these faults, we would issue a clean audit opinion.  In some audit reports, the list of faults can go on for 50 pages and it seems that the faults from previous years are not addressed and usually appear in following years audit reports.

The City has changed auditing firms, hired and fired an Internal Auditor - one that is supposed to report directly to the City Commission.  The last one dismissed due to the City Manager's conclusion that we didn't need anyone to point out more problems.

Given that as a backdrop, I found this story telling.  Earlier this year a Lake Worth resident, and one that most people would know, received a letter in the mail from the Finance Director.  It contained a copy of a check from 2005 in the amount of around $500 and it was made out in this person's name.  The letter essentially said that the city was going through its records and wanted to know the status of the check.  There was a multiple choice set of responses like "You received and cashed the check" or "You still have the check and have not cashed it" or "You did not receive the check but are still owed the money and would like a new one issued", etc.  The last example included a caveat that if you are issued a new one and it turns out not to due to the person in question, they could be held liable for return of the check and penalties.

First of all, this was about a check issued in 2005!  Checking the calendar today immediately points out that we are currently in 2010 - some five years after said check was or was not issued.  Second of all, the amount - compared to the $162 million total city budget - is de minimis at best.  It makes one wonder about the checks written for larger amounts than $500 since 2005, whether they should have been issued and if they were for some service the city and residents actually in some way benefited from.

So, during this budget season and while reviewing the document, it is difficult not to wonder about whether or not you are looking at the "real" picture of the way things are or are they a picture of the way someone wants them to be or if they are to be believed at all.  It does not give one the level of assurance that is expected of an organization in charge of handling the public's money.  Is anyone on the dais addressing this?

Regarding loose change, there was this entry in this week's City Manager report:
It is good to hear that we are assigning staff to repair meters "within a half hour during weekday hours and within one hour after 4 p.m." at the beach and at the boat ramp.  My question, does the broken meter send a signal to someone at the city that it's broken or does it have to be reported by someone?  I don't know if this is administrative "spin" given that the Finance Director reported  to the Financial Advisory Board (FAB) that we will need to replace the meter machines at the beach in the near future and they are looking at them for the downtown.  That last idea, parking meters in the downtown, is getting a chilly reception from the FAB apparently, but we will have to wait for their recommendation to come "out of the box."  It probably should be run by the Planning and Zoning Board too.  

The City Manager also made a big deal in her report about how the FAB should not be influenced by Commissioners during their budget review so that their recommendation is objective - good luck with that!