Special Reports

Mayor orders probe of Parks and Recreation

Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington has called for a police investigation of the findings of a recent audit of the city Parks and Recreation Department.

“I have instructed the Columbus police chief Ricky Boren to assemble a team from Columbus Police Department to fully and completely investigate the recent findings of the city auditor regarding the Parks and Recreation Department,” Wetherington said Friday afternoon.

The audit, released last week, raised concerns about the way money was handled, credit cards were used, and the city funded a travel basketball team that is sponsored by Nike.

“I am troubled with several aspects of the city auditor’s report,” Wetherington said in calling for the police investigation. “As mayor of Columbus, Ga., I would be remiss not to order a comprehensive examination of these important issues. The taxpayers of this city deserve to have peace of mind knowing their money is being used as prudently and efficiently as possible. That’s the bottom line.”

Wetherington stopped short of calling it a criminal investigation.

“They are conducting an investigation at my request,” Wetherington said. “I want to stay away from the word criminal. I want the investigative team to make that determination.”

Wetherington informed City Manager Isaiah Hugley of the decision during a Friday morning meeting.

“The mayor is the public safety director and he indicated he wanted to do that and he has the authority to do that,” Hugley said. “Beyond that, I don’t have any comment.”

During Tuesday’s Columbus Council meeting, Hugley was critical of the audit process and the fact that the Ledger-Enquirer obtained a copy of the 28-page report on the same day Hugley and council did.

Members of Columbus Council acknowledge that Wetherington has the authority to call for the probe as public safety director, but they still want to hear from Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams, who has until June 8 to file a written response to the audit.

Councilor Julius Hunter, an attorney, said he didn’t know what to think of the latest call for a police probe.

“I guess the bottom line regarding Tony Adams is he needs a chance to be able to respond to the audit,” Hunter said. “That is the thing to do.”

Hunter said he didn’t think now is the time to jump to any conclusion. “I’m like anybody, I’m going to wait to see what the response is,” Hunter said.

Councilor Evelyn Turner-Pugh said she has thoroughly read the audit report and will not respond until she sees something in writing. “I’m not reacting to anything,” she said.

Councilor C.E. “Red” McDaniel said he has no idea what’s going on after the mayor’s decision.

“I can’t believe he has done anything illegal,” McDaniel said of Adams, who he has known more than 20 years. “You just never know.”

Auditor John Redmond has been instructed to fully cooperate with the police investigation, Wetherington said.

“I expect that same level of assistance in this investigation from all city employees who have knowledge of the facts under investigation,” Wetherington said.

Hugley was asked if he had talked to Adams about the investigation.

“I have not talked to anyone this morning,” Hugley said.

Boren has assigned two investigators to look into the matter.

“We will start by talking to the city auditor in the very near future,” Boren said.

The chief did not indicate how long the investigation would take.

“It will be slow and thorough,” Boren said.

The audit raised several questions, including:

Ÿ The Innovative Sports Program — which fields competitive teams in boys and girls basketball, boxing and track and field — traveled extensively to compete in AAU tournaments. The top teams play in tournaments across the state, Southeast and nation.

Ÿ City purchasing cards were sometimes used to buy 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.

Ÿ 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.”

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

Ÿ 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.

Ÿ It questioned the operation of pools at Shirley Winston Park and Rigdon Park.

— Staff writer Ben Wright contributed to this report.

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