City accepts state audit with limited comment

The Florida Auditor General’s office examined more than 50 types of Gainesville policies, procedures and records as part of a wide-ranging state audit that returned 18 findings, a state official said Tuesday.

“It was a fairly wide scope,” audit coordinator Derek Noonan told the city’s Audit Committee. “We had a lot of allegations from a lot of different folks.”

Gainesville Regional Utility’s debt levels, its general fund transfer to the city and the city’s oversight of Reichert House were among the final audit’s main findings.

Noonan said that a joint legislative audit committee asked for an audit of the city. To begin the process the Auditor General’s office spoke with the local legislative delegation and several citizens who had made complaints to the delegation.

“We interviewed a lot of folks,” Noonan said. “We took a lot of notes. Then we kind of developed our scope for the audit. We took the stuff we thought was the most significant and said, ‘Let’s go look at this stuff.’”

A bulleted list of examined records, policies and reports, which Noonan described as a “laundry list” of topics, spanned more than four pages in the final audit. The auditors looked at many things that didn’t rise “to the level that we felt like we needed to report on it,” he said.

“The inference is, if you see something in that objectives, scope and methodology section [of the final audit], and there’s not a corresponding finding, then we didn’t find anything significant enough to report on,” Noonan said.

The audit committee voted to accept the report, which will be forwarded on to the city commission, but did not delve into any of the 18 findings or describe in detail the city’s plans to address them.

“Many of these findings were findings of our own as well,” said Mayor Lauren Poe, who chairs the three-person committee. “For example, we’d done a pretty thorough audit of Reichert House, and many of the things the auditor general pointed out, we’d also been concerned about and had already been working on fixing.”

The state auditors will return in 18 months to check on the action plans the city agreed on to address the findings, City Auditor Ginger Bigbie said. She said her office would keep an eye on the action plans to make sure they are progressing.

“The good news is that we have a head start on many of these and have already developed ways to address them and report back to the commission on their progress,” Poe said. “The ones we don’t, we’ll work these into our plan.”

While the city didn’t release its response to the preliminary audit to the media, citing confidentiality, the final audit report from the state included a “management response” from the city dated Jan. 7, and a December letter from interim City Manager Cynthia Curry.

“We are committed to following through with our action plans in a transparent and fully accountable manner,” Poe wrote in the letter to accompany the management response.

Among the city’s responses to the audit findings:

  • GRU has paid down some of its existing debt and is working on a longer-term plan to pay down its level of debt. A formal plan is scheduled to be presented to the commission in early 2022.
  • It would develop a formula to calculate the annual amount of the general fund transfer, which is the money GRU sends to the general city government.
  • The city will improve its oversight and transparency of Reichert House activities and has established policies and procedures to deal with donations to and outside organizations involved with the at-risk youth program.
  • The interim city manager is reorganizing the city’s Budget and Finance Department as part of a general city government restructuring, and is in the process of filling vacant positions and adding new ones to help the department produce more compliant financial reports in a more timely manner.
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