UPDATE: Audit of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department raises concerns; link to complete audit available

Report questions handling of money and spending on travel basketball teams

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 18, 2010 

A wide-ranging internal audit has raised questions about procedures and management of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

The audit on the city agency with a $10 million annual operating budget and about 300 employees was delivered to Mayor Jim Wetherington Monday morning.

A copy of the audit was obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer later in the day.

While it does not say any money is missing or has been stolen, it questions the department’s polices for handling cash, making deposits and recording transactions at aquatic centers, Cooper Creek Park and Lake Oliver Marina.

It also questions annual spending of as much as $150,000 on elite travel teams in basketball and other sports. Those teams, some of which are coached by Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams, travel to tournaments across the country. Some of the teams are composed of players who are from other parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The basketball teams participate in national tournaments that showcase the players to college scouts.

Wetherington said he was “concerned” with the findings and will work with City Manager Isaiah Hugley to address the issues raised in the 28-page report that took Internal Auditor John Redmond six months to complete.

“I am not satisfied with its contents,” the mayor said. “I have asked Isaiah to take a look and see what he thinks. And he is in the process of doing that.”

Hugley said he first saw the report mid-morning Monday. He was sent a copy from the mayor’s office. Additional copies were provided to Columbus councilors, Wetherington said.

“I have not had a chance to review it,” Hugley said.

Hugley said he had read the four-page executive summary.

“There are certainly some concerns brought out by the internal auditor,” Hugley said. “I will address those with Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin and director of Parks and Recreation Tony Adams. I have not talked to him at all.”

Goodwin, Adams’ boss, said Monday night she had looked over the report, but had not fully read it.

“I want to look at the report and findings before I comment,” Goodwin said. “If there are any irregularities, we will address those irregularities.”

Adams said he was aware of the audit but has not gotten an “official copy.”

“I would like to get my hands on the report, and I will respond to all policies changes that need to be made,” Adams said.

The report comes as the city is preparing to spend tax revenue on crime prevention programs.

“Recreation has been identified by the Crime Prevention Commission as one of five key areas that can be instrumental in reducing crime in the city,” the report concludes. “It behooves senior management and elected officials to ensure that internal controls are adequate in the Parks and Recreation Department to prevent or substantially diminish the likelihood of any misappropriations or theft of funds before approving crime prevention grants for expanded recreation programming or extended hours.”

The spending on the out-of-state basketball travel concerned Wetherington. The report outlines between “$100,000 and $150,000” a year over the last two years spent on the Innovative Sports Program. The money was spent on supplies, equipment, travel, meals, charter buses, lodging and snacks “associated with the supervision and chaperoning” of the teams to locations throughout the United States.

“They have traveled to places like Las Vegas and Chicago,” Wetherington said. “Players from different states participated. I think we could spend the money more wisely and help the folks in Columbus with sports and crime prevention programs.”

Other findings in the report

Among the other findings are:

• City purchasing cards were sometimes used to purchase gift cards from Sam’s Club. The retailer does not accept Visa cards and buying the gift cards was a way around that, the audit noted.

“Unfortunately, using a purchasing card to buy a gift card opens the door for a lack of accountability,” the audit stated.

• A review of profit margins at the aquatics centers and marina “detected unfavorable results.” The results were about 5 percent at the marina as opposed to an “expected margin of 30-33 percent.”

• A review of hiring procedures indicated that at least two employees, previously terminated, were rehired despite the fact they were not eligible for rehire.

• The report advises delaying a proposal to transfer the operation of Cooper Creek Tennis Center to the private Columbus Regional Tennis Association up to 18 months while measures such as increasing fees are implemented.

• It questioned the operation of pools at Shirley Winston Park and Rigdon Park. “The management at both of these pools was much more lax and yielded poorer results when compared to the management and operation of the Psalmond Road and Double Churches pools,” the report stated.

Chuck Williams, 706-320-4485

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