Remember the promised Department of Recreation and Parks audit? This is the document that, when finished, would be the first audit of a major city agency in 25 years. (Actually, nobody seems to remember the last one, so maybe it’s been longer than a quarter century.)
It was offered up to show that Baltimore was turning over a new leaf in fiscal transparency.
Well, here’s the news: scheduled to take just six months, the audit has dragged on for nearly two years – and now we learn of another delay in finalizing and “resolving” the auditor’s findings.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise from a city that, earlier this year, had to pay back the federal government nearly $4 million in homeless funds that were not properly documented. Still the process at Rec and Parks appears amazingly slow, even for Baltimore.
Here’s our best effort to lay it out for you.
City auditor Robert L. McCarty found errors, inconsistencies and poor practices to such a degree at the Department of Recreation and Parks (here and here) that it took his office 1½ years to unravel the mistakes.
Among them: undocumented time sheets, inter-agency billings that didn’t add up and cash at rec centers (much of it paid by parents for kids’ programs) not properly accounted for.
Rec and Parks promised to reform its ways and get back to the Board of Estimates with a progress report last August.
To be sure, Rec and Parks wasn’t solely to blame. The Department of Finance balked at handing over financial material to McCarty during the audit, causing major delays. Since the days of Charles L. Benton, financial czar of Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s “shadow government,” the department has viewed inquiries about its money-handling akin to apostasy.
So it was of no great surprise when Rec and Parks, joined by Finance, asked Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Board of Estimates for a 90-day extension to complete the audit process last August.
Now it turns out that Finance has blown this deadline. The agency was so tardy in finishing its “procedures manual” and submitting it to the Department of Audits that McCarty hasn’t had time to test the procedures to see if they work before giving his stamp of approval.
So a two-week delay has been requested at tomorrow’s Board of Estimates meeting “for all audit findings to be resolved.”
By law, the administration is responsible for auditing 12 more agencies by the time that Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s present term ends in 2016. That includes Police, Transportation and Public Works many times bigger and more complex than Rec and Parks.
Finance Director Henry Raymond is responsible for overseeing these audits. He has approved a list of outside auditors to do the work, but hasn’t announced the start of any agency review so far.
That’s where Rec and Parks came in. It was supposed to clear the path for the audit process to begin in earnest.
The fact that this audit has dragged on for so long underscores the encrusted and self-protective inertia that grips City Hall whose current occupants may toss around the word “transparency,” but still march to the tune of Charlie Benton.