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Rec and Parks given third extension to fix its poor financial practices

Council hearing is expected on the progress (or lack thereof) of 12 agency audits mandated by law, while completion of the only audit conducted so far drags on

Above: City Council President Jack Young and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake listen to City Auditor Robert McCarty on Wednesday. To his side are Finance Chief Henry Raymond and Rec and Parks Director Ernest Burkeen.

Saying it hasn’t yet corrected five of six significant financial weaknesses revealed in an audit, the Department of Recreation and Parks has asked the mayor and Board of Estimates for more time to resolve the issues.

Without comment, the board accepted December 31, 2014 as the new deadline for corrective measures following an audit last April that cited the department for multiple errors, inconsistencies and poor financial practices.

Rec and Parks was originally required to fix the accounting problems by July 23. That date was postponed by the board to October 22. And then again to November 5.

The latest delay – coupled with the absence of any start date by the Rawlings-Blake administration to audit 12 other departments mandated by a 2012 charter amendment – has infuriated audit advocates.

Councilman Carl Stokes told The Brew that he will call for a City Council hearing on the matter. “I’ve lost patience. I really have,” he said.

Stokes led the movement calling for annual audits of all city agencies, which was watered down by the administration to the requirement of 13 agency audits every four years.

So far, only Rec and Parks has been audited.

No announcement has been made about when the other audits, including the Department of Transportation where two officials were indicted on corruption charges (here and here), will commence.

The charter amendment calls for the agencies “to have their operations audited at least once during every four-year term of the Mayor and City Council,” indicating a deadline of November 2016.

The elected officials who sit on the Board of Estimates – Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt – did not address the charter amendment or the auditing question at Wednesday’s meeting.

They instead listened silently to City Auditor Robert L. McCarty outline the corrective actions yet to be achieved by Rec and Parks. Ernest Burkeen, who was appointed director of Rec and Parks in late 2012, was on hand to respond to the audit controversy, but was not asked to testify by the board.

Recommended in 2010

Rawlings-Blake, Young and Pratt have all expressed lukewarm support for audits, but have made little effort to push the process forward, according to Chris Delaporte, a former city official who has called repeatedly for agency audits.

“The original recommendation for agency audits came from the mayor’s transition committee, which she [Rawlings-Blake] approved in March 2010,” Delaporte recounted. “But nothing happened for two years, when it was revealed by the city audit staff, in a meeting with Carl Stokes and myself, that no agency had been audited for as long as anyone could remember.”

“I was incredulous,” Delaporte said. “Recognizing the magnitude of the problem, Carl introduced legislation for audits of city agencies.”

Since voters approved the audit amendment in November 2012, Rawlings-Blake and Pratt have exchanged barbed comments about how the other has not taken a more active role in the process. The mayor has chided Pratt for not taking the lead as supervisor of the city auditor, and Pratt has criticized the administration for not providing her with funds to hire more auditors.

Stokes said the delays in fixing the financial problems at Rec and Parks stem from the agency’s failure to prepare financial statements needed by auditors to conduct a review of the books.

“The whole process has become farcical,” Stokes said. “Rec and Parks doesn’t keep proper financial records to start with – they say they lack the expertise to do so. Then the auditor can’t figure out what’s going on – meaning it’s taking forever to complete this first audit.”

What Audit Progress?

Stokes said he will call for a Council hearing to review the status of audits as chairman of the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee.

The charter amendment calls for audits every four years of 13 agencies: the departments of Finance, Fire, General Services, Housing and Community Development, Human Resources, Law, Planning, Police, Public Works, Recreation and Parks, and Transportation as well as the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC) and Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT).

At Wednesday’s board meeting, City Auditor McCarty said Rec and Parks has completed a “preparation manual” that will bring consistency to the agency’s financial transactions recorded in the city’s accounting system known as CityDynamics.

The agency, however, has not completed changes in payroll documentation, collection of cash at local recreation centers, accounting for credit card and on-line payments, and billings for capital projects and interagency transactions.

Committed to Reform

In response to the auditor’s report, Rec and Parks said it was committed to the process and to completing financial reforms.

The Fiscal Service Division staffs, the agency said, “have met with all division managers to review the time and attendance policies and procedures” and instructed employees of “the necessity for accuracy and consistency with the time and attendance records, time sheets submitted to the payroll clerks and eTIME,” the city’s timekeeping and payroll system.

In addition, program and location managers have been trained “to verify leave time and approve time and attendance record in eTIME before payroll is dispatched to BAPS [Bureau of Accounting and Payroll Services]” and “Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for payroll, personnel, procurement and budget have been reformulated,” the agency said, with final drafts “distributed to bureau heads, division chiefs and supervisors for final review December 31, 2014.”

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