Gainesville is on track to meet an extended state deadline to turn in its much-delayed fiscal year 2021 audit reports, staff told the audit committee Tuesday.
The three-person committee voted unanimously to accept the FY21 audited financial statements and a series of independent audit reports from outside firm Purvis Gray.
The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, and the city is required to submit audited financial statements and its independent audit reports within nine months of the end of the fiscal year.
The documents had been due on June 30, but city officials had said in the spring that they would not make the June deadline. The extended deadline for the city to submit its FY21 is Dec. 19.
The audit materials will now go to the full City Commission on Thursday, and Mayor Lauren Poe, who chairs the audit committee, said if accepted, they will be submitted to the state.
“The audit is late. It was due nine months after the end of the fiscal year, and we fast forward another five of six months to get it done,” interim City Manager Cynthia Curry told the committee. “But it’s done… And we have been able to set a foundation hopefully that will help us to continue to get better in year 22.”
State, independent and internal audits have all identified problems with the city’s financial reporting and internal financial controls dating back to 2018. The FY21 reports in particular have been further hampered because the city switched financial reporting systems during the year.
Purvis Gray’s FY21 independent audit reports continued to identify delays in financial reporting and bank reconciliations as material weaknesses. The report also said a significant number of adjustments had to be made once the records were reconciled.
An internal memo from March estimated that the city still had 17 months of bank reconciliation to complete at that point.
On Tuesday, Sue Wang, the city’s finance director, said the reconciliations were caught up to the point where the city would complete the FY22 bank reconciliations by the end of December.
The fiscal year 2022 annual audit is due on June 30, 2023, and Wang said they were on track to meet the deadline.
“My team and I have learned so much… about the city’s business that I feel confident we can do it,” Wang said.
The financial services office has been trying to fill ongoing vacancies – identified by previous audits as an underlying problem with the financial reporting – for months. Wang was initially hired in June as the city’s controller but was named the director of financial services when the previous director had to step down unexpectedly for health reasons.
She said Tuesday the department has continued to hire people into key positions, which has helped them to get in better shape for the upcoming FY22 audit process.
“I’m asking my staff to step up one more time. There’s probably going to be working nights and weekends,” said Wang, who became visibly upset and stopped speaking as she wrapped her FY21 presentation to the audit committee.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be emotional, but it hasn’t been easy,” Wang said after regaining her composure. “And we know we can’t quit.”
She was given a round of applause from the chamber as she finished.
Committee member Harold Monk, a certified public accountant and auditor, told Wang, “I think you’ve done a yeoman’s job. Getting to this point, I wasn’t sure that this report would get out before next year. I was just thrilled to see it.”
In other business
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the audit committee heard summaries for two internal reviews: one involving the reporting of preventable driver accidents at the Regional Transit System (RTS) and another involving the city’s compliance with its public records policy.
Poe said the RTS review was initiated because there was “a concern that RTS employees were being disciplined differently, depending on their race and ethnicity.”
The city’s audit department looked at preventable accident reports and at employee disciplinary records, but did not find evidence that employees of different races were disciplined differently.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, who is not on the audit committee but joined the committee for the afternoon, said “I was glad to see that there were not disparities there, because I anticipated and expected to see that.”
The city’s auditors, however, did find some problems with how RTS documents its preventable accidents and discrepancies between what’s in the official reports and what shows up in the employee’s disciplinary files. The audit team recommended changes to reporting procedures and clearer policy regarding employee discipline and corrective actions in preventable collisions.
Public records policy audit
City Clerk Omichele Gainey requested the public records policy compliance audit “to just get a view overall in the city in terms of our effectiveness in complying with the policy and also looking for ways that we can improve the consistency of the way we apply that policy.”
Gainey told the committee one of the challenges of consistently applying the policy is getting all employees trained to understand Florida’s public records laws. According to the audit, approximately 53% of city employees have not taken the required basic training and 52% of designated records liaisons have not completed the full training required.
The city auditors found that employee training in how to handle public records requests was not sufficient and that the city was not consistently monitoring the workflow and status of public records.
The city uses a web-based portal – JustFOIA – to manage public records requests, but the auditors found many of the requests for Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) records aren’t loaded into JustFOIA until the request is fulfilled, and that most of the Gainesville Police Department requests are handled outside of JustFOIA.
“I think we learned some valuable things,” Gainey said. “We are already taking proactive steps to try to streamline the way that we respond to requests as a city.”
JustFOIA has a function that allows people to search previous requests and look at the records, but Gainesville doesn’t have that feature turned on. Several members of the public asked the city to make previous requests available and searchable.
Jo Beaty, who most recently ran for the District 2 City Commission seat, said, “I hope part of what comes out of this audit is you tell them to turn [the search function] on. There’s no reason I can’t go in and search all the other public records that have been given. It probably will save you staff time because I don’t know how many people are requesting the same information.”
Beaty said she frequently requests city records, but she gets different responses from city staff – some of whom just hand her the records while others route requests to a records custodian.
“Trying to get records from the city is like playing whack-a-mole,” she told the audit committee.