City leaders were faced with audit findings that questioned the conduct and integrity of city staff.
(TNS) — PETERSBURG — Forensic auditors from PBMares, LLP publicly went over their findings from the forensic audit they conducted into the city's financial books during a special city council meeting Monday night.
Though the audit and its findings were released last week, John Hanson and Mike Garber, who were in charge of the audit for PBMares, gave a brief presentation to council and answered questions from council members.
Hanson and Garber mainly focused on the "ethical tone" of the city government, saying they found much evidence of abuse of city money and city resources.
"The perception that employees had was that the ethical tone had not been good for quite some time," said Hanson. "The culture led employees to do things they might not otherwise do."
Included in these allegations of misconduct are: misappropriations of fuel for city vehicles, falsification of overtime hours, vacation/sick leave abuse, use of city property for personal gain including lawn mowers and vehicles for travel, excessive or lavish gifts from vendors, and questionable hiring practices.
Several council members asked if some of the employees who admitted to misconduct could be named. Garber and Hanson declined to reveal names in public, but could discuss it in private with City Manager Aretha Ferrell-Benavides. Though both Garber and Hanson noted ethical problems seemed to be more "systemic" rather than individual.
"For instance, we looked at fuel data usage," said Hanson. "And we could tell just looking at it that it was misused, though it would've cost tens of thousands of more dollars to find out who exactly took what."
Because of the city's limited budget, the scope of PBMares' work could only go so far. Council members Darrin Hill and Treska Wilson-Smith both expressed sentiments that the audit didn't go far enough. Former Finance Director Nelsie Birch noted that the audit was tasked with focusing on several "troubling areas," and that a full forensic audit could've cost much more money.
Wilson-Smith also inquired about the Johnson Controls contract. The final audit said that auditors found "no indicators of misconduct, fraud, waste or abuse noted during the examination." However, they did find that several employees with the Public Works Department had relationships with Johnson Controls that would normally be considered conflicts of interest.
Hanson said that while the transgressions would've normally fallen under a conflict of interest policy, such was the culture in the city that employees didn't know, or were allowed to ignore, those policies.
"When I asked employees what their conflict of interest or gifts and gratuity policy is, people couldn't answer that question because they didn't know," said Garber.
Council member John Hart talked about potentially having an "all hands on deck meeting" with city staff, in order to address the issues of misconduct, and establish new standards.
"We've been running [the city] like it's a storefront, and it's a corporation," he said. "We need to work to make sure we right the ship."
©2017 The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.