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Rec and Parks audit completed 28 months after it was started

INSIDE CITY HALL: A drawn-out end to a fiscal quest that’s legally required for a dozen more agencies, including Police and Public Works

Above: The Rec and Parks mission statement on display near its headquarters in Druid Hill Park.

Thirteen months after an audit that took 15 months identified serious financial shortcomings, the Recreation and Parks Department successfully completed its 2012 audit.

Rather than pop the cork of a non-alcoholic drink (although a stiff shot of Gunpowder Rye might be more fitting), the Board of Estimates today accepted the audit material without any questions before adjourning.

Kenn King, chief of fiscal services, solemnly told the board, “The Department of Recreation and Parks is hereby to present the completion of the financial procedures manual, which was requested as a part of the audit for FY 2012. We have reviewed all the procedures with the audit department, and they are proven to be satisfactory, so we hereby present them.”

He was followed by Robert L. McCarty, the city auditor.

“We have reviewed the procedures manual developed by Recreation and Parks, and we find that they resolve all of the main findings for the 2012 audit. We do recommend that Rec and Parks establish procedures to keep this manual updated and their employees informed of any changes.”

“I will concur,” said King.

“Alright,” summed up City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

“Anybody have any questions?” he asked, looking vaguely in the direction of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to his left and Comptroller Joan Pratt to his right.

“OK, the financial procedures manual has been noted,” he said, gaveling the meeting to a close.

Glacially Slow

Thus ended the first audit of a city agency in the last 25 years as far as anybody now in City Hall knows. (Who would know for sure? “Shadow government” mastermind Charles L. Benton Jr., died a decade ago.)

It was a quiet end to a political melodrama that began in 2010 when the mayor’s transition committee recommended that city agencies undergo audits like their counterparts in corporate America.

The mayor proceeded to ignore the idea, but Councilman Carl Stokes  agitated for audits when he determined that no city agency had undergone a detailed financial review in decades.

A watered-down version of his plan was approved first by the City Council and then by voters as a charter amendment in the November 2012 general election.

Then began the glacially slow process of actually doing an audit on Rec and Parks, a relatively small agency that had a reputation for loose practices.

The audit took more than a year to complete because many financial records could not be unraveled by Rec and Parks or the Finance Department, which acts as its paymaster.

The audit, released April a year ago, found a slew of errors, inadequate payroll controls and “off-budget” funding (here and here).

Three Extensions

Fixing these problems proved almost as time-consuming as finding them. Rec and Parks received three extensions from the Board of Estimates to make the corrections needed to satisfy auditor McCarty.

The last requirement, achieved today, was completing a financial procedures manual “to guide, direct and instruct its employees on cash handling” – a major part of the duties of personnel working in 35 recreation centers – and to adhere to the city’s E-time payroll system.

(Auditors found that one rec center didn’t even have a sign-in sheet to record its employees’ hours of work).

Many More to Go

While Rec and Parks may be out of the woods, at least for fiscal year 2012, the city is not.

The charter amendment requires that 12 other agencies undergo financial and performance audits between now and the end of 2016.

The city has hired outside auditors to go over the books of three large agencies this year – Police, Public Works and Transportation – as well as update the Rec and Parks audit.

Finance Director Henry Raymond announced that these audits should be ready as soon as next month.

Even if the city actually meets this aspirational deadline, that still leaves such agencies as Housing and Community Development, Fire, General Services, the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC) and the Mayor’s Office of Informational Technology (MOIT) due to be audited in 2016.

Other than to disclose a general timetable of audits, the Rawlings-Blake administration has been mum on the level of detail of the audits or how it proposes to fix problems revealed by the green-eyeshade sleuths.

But given how long it’s taken to “fix the books” at Rec and Parks, a safe bet is on a process that’s neither short nor easy.

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