At least 13 of the 33 coaches involved in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department’s Innovative Sports Program over the last three years are currently on the city payroll as full-time or part-time employees, according to public records reviewed by the Ledger-Enquirer.
An audit of the department ordered by Mayor Jim Wetherington in 2009 and released in May raised questions about the amount of time city employees spent coaching and traveling with the teams, more than half of whose basketball players come from outside the city.
The audit, though not naming individuals, noted that “some Parks and Recreation employees spend a considerable portion of their work hours related to the Georgia Blazers.”
In calendar year 2009, the city paid those employees who help coach Georgia Blazers basketball, boxing and track-and-field teams more than $313,000 in salaries, according to information provided by the city under Georgia’s Open Records Act.
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All of the employees who coach — including department director Tony Adams, who coaches the elite 17-and-under boys basketball team — have different job titles in the department.
“Personnel costs associated with the program could easily exceed the cost of the direct cash outlays for the program,” wrote internal auditor John Redmond, who also recommended the city discontinue funding of the travel teams.
The director of a Nike-sponsored, nonprofit travel basketball program in the Atlanta area recently told the city in an e-mail that he didn’t realize that Adams’ elite team, also sponsored by Nike and receiving its sponsorship money through the nonprofit, was a city program.
Expenses for the Innovative Sports Program are not a line item in the city budget. Instead, personnel, travel, hotels, educational software and other expenses are sprinkled throughout the $10 million annual Parks and Recreation budget.
The audit identified between $100,000 and $150,000 a year over the “past several years” spent on the program, including credit card purchases and per diems paid to city employees who traveled with the teams to tournaments and meets across the state, southeast and nation.
The Ledger-Enquirer reviewed the expenditures mentioned in the audit to reach those conclusions — also requesting additional information for late 2009 and 2010 that was not factored into the audit — and determined the annual expenses to be as high as $210,000, in calendar year 2008. (Note: The city uses a fiscal year that starts July 1 and ends June 30 for budget purposes.)
“It is difficult to tell how much is being spent,” said Wetherington, who has ordered a police investigation of Parks and Recreation. “I don’t know how much time the coaches are spending in the Innovative Sports Program, but obviously, it’s a lot. I am concerned that it is pulling them off their regular duties.”
Columbus Council will likely discuss the amount of time and money spent on the program at its Tuesday meeting, during which Adams’ response to the internal audit will be presented. Councilors could receive a copy of the response from Adams either late Monday or early Tuesday morning, City Manager Isaiah Hugley said.
Wetherington called for a Columbus police investigation of Parks and Recreation a week ago and that probe is ongoing. Adams and “selected members of Parks and Recreation” have hired criminal defense attorney Stacey Jackson.
Coaches and costs
The names of coaches in the Innovative Sports Program were obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer under the Georgia Open Records Act. The program, according to rosters provided by the city, has about 240 athletes on 13 boys and girls basketball teams, a track and field team and a boxing team.
The list was then cross-checked against city employees, where salaries and job titles were requested.
Several of the employees hold jobs that are not related to the Innovative Sports Program.
For example, Teresa Snellings is a coach with the boxing team, but is also the department’s Human Resources specialist. She has a part-time job as a recreation center leader.
Most of the coaches who work for Parks and Recreation also hold the title of recreation center leader, which means they help manage one of the various recreation centers in the city. The rec center leaders are part-time employees who make $8.42 an hour.
Other coaches, such as basketball coaches Tim Marshall and Margaret Brown, also hold full-time jobs in Parks and Recreation. Marshall is a recreation program specialist, making about $32,400 a year. Brown is the manager of the Recreation Services Division, which is over the Innovative Sports Program. She makes more than $43,000 a year.
On a website for the Elite Basketball Family, the roles for Marshall and Brown are outlined.
“The Blazers serve as our exclusive south Georgia affiliate,” it states. “The program is anchored by Tim Marshall, Joe Foster and Margaret Brown out of the Columbus area.”
Foster is an unpaid volunteer.
Brown declined comment Saturday. Marshall, reached by phone on Saturday, said he needed to talk to his supervisor, Brown, before commenting.
“This whole thing is kind of messed up,” Marshall said.
Shelley Stephens is a full-time recreational program specialist who also runs the track team and makes more than $40,000 a year.
Not listed as a coach is Herman Porter, a recreational program specialist who sometimes travels with the Blazers, according to city expense reports. Porter makes about $30,000 a year.
Snellings is the only coach who received mileage reimbursements over the last two years, according to the documents provided to the Ledger-Enquirer. She was paid $2,205 in 2009 for mileage.
Adams, who is paid more than $78,000 a year as director, has declined to comment on the audit or operations of the department at the direction of the city manager’s office.
While the program’s personnel expenses are unknown, the newspaper’s review of the records showed the direct expenses of the program to be as high as $210,000 in 2008.
Here are the direct expenditures of the Innovative Sports Program, according to information provided by the city under the Open Records Act:
Ÿ 2007 — $129,192.64 (includes $13,814.82 on gas and $47,015.46 on hotels and lodging)
Ÿ 2008 — $210,823.37 (includes $18,935.86 on gas and $51,217.66 on hotels and lodging)
Ÿ 2009 — $62,281.30 (includes $6,193.91 on gas and $24,755.01 on hotels and lodging)
Ÿ 2010 — $16,610.07 (includes $1,993.24 on gas and $1,974.80 on hotels and lodging)
(The final four months of 2009 and all of the 2010 expenses were not examined by the auditor, and the overall number appears to contain some credit card charges not connected to the program.)
The program starts working with athletes as young as 12 years old, and some of them end up on elite teams that travel the country playing basketball against many of the nation’s top players in front of college scouts.
But as local basketball players get older, it becomes harder for them to make the city travel teams. In all, more than half of the basketball travel team players come from outside of Columbus, and about a third of them must travel more than an hour each way to practice and play in Columbus. (The track-and-field team is made up of all local athletes, while the boxing team consists of mostly Columbus youths.)
The elite under-17 boys team is where the line between city and travel team seems to blur.
The team, whose 13-man roster contains one Columbus player, has had a sponsorship deal with Nike since 2006 and played in a Nike-sponsored event last weekend in Los Angeles.
The terms with Nike have not been made available because the sponsorship agreement is with East Marietta Basketball Inc., a nonprofit organization in the Atlanta area.
William Fox, director of basketball operations for East Marietta Basketball Inc., said he did not know he was dealing with a city-funded team.
“I was not aware that the Georgia Blazers was a City of Columbus program and that I would then fall under the open records act,” Fox wrote in a recent e-mail to Assistant City Attorney Jaimie DeLoach after her office requested a copy of the contract with Nike. “I thought I was dealing with an individual basketball club as I do with many in Georgia. No one from the City of Columbus told me I was falling under the open records act ...”
Nike limits information on grassroots basketball teams the company sponsors, Fox said in the e-mail.
“Due to the confidential (agreement) I have with Nike I cannot provide this information,” Fox said. “They have 41 clubs they deal with across the country including several in Georgia and each club gets different financial and equipment deals ... “
The Ledger-Enquirer and the city have requested from East Marietta Basketball records relating to the Nike sponsorship, and the Georgia Attorney General’s Office is pursuing the request.
A Nike spokesman, who was sent a copy of Fox’s e-mail to the city attorney, responded late Friday. The company does not disclose terms of its sponsorship deals, Rodney Knox said.
“No Open Records request has been directed to Nike seeking information relating to the Georgia Blazers,” Knox said in an e-mail.
“However, we have also spoken with the Columbus City Attorney’s office and they have confirmed that in accordance with the Open Records laws the release of any relevant documents has been directed only to East Marietta Basketball, Inc. The City is not seeking documents from Nike and has not asked the Attorney General’s Office to seek any records from us.”