By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The mayor of Santa Rosa has called for a financial audit of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in the wake of what he called “disquieting” revelations about the department’s budget.
“I’d like to see the city manager do a complete audit our parks and recreation finances,” Mayor Scott Bartley said during the Tuesday City Council meeting.
He said “prudence dictates” the review given questions that came up during last week’s budget presentation that showed “funding going from place to place.”
Bartley did not mention the recent revelation that two recently retired department managers are set to be fined Thursday by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to report thousands of dollars in free golf, cart usage, lessons and merchandise discounts over several years from the operator of the city-owned Bennett Valley Golf Course.
Marc Richardson, director of the department until his retirement in December, is facing a $6,500 fine, while Rich Hovden, parks development manager until he left in February, is facing a $3,000 fine.
After an independent investigation confirmed the undisclosed gifts, the two men repaid golf course operator Bob Borowicz a total of $9,365 in December. After retiring, each amended several years of financial disclosures, triggering the FPPC investigation and proposed fines.
Richardson’s proposed fine is steeper because he is also accused of having a conflict of interest when he negotiated Borowicz’ contract while receiving gifts from him.
Councilman Gary Wysocky agreed that further investigation needs to be done. But instead of a general department audit, he proposed focusing on operations of the golf course, which already has been the subject of an outside review recently disclosed by Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips.
“An audit does not give you absolute assurance that you have found everything, especially when there are cases of collusion,” said Wysocky, a certified public accountant.
Instead, he said the review of the golf course operations, which was completed in March by Sirrius Golf Advisors of Jacksonville, Fla., should be the immediate focus.
“There are some tremendous issues that were raised,” Wysocky said.
The 95-page report said the course is generally well run but is losing money largely because of more than $400,000 in bond payments related to the construction of $9.6 million clubhouse and pro shop, which opened in 2007.
But it also noted what it called several poor accounting practices, such as not having individual cashiers responsible for their own cash drawers and allowing annual pass holders to pay in installments.
One of the issues noted as a “red flag” regarded how rainchecks were granted to golfers.
“The issue is that there were a considerable number of rainchecks issued in months when there was no rain,” the report found.
Another “red flag” item noted that while the city is supposed to receive 15 percent of revenue from golf lessons, it was receiving none.
Phillips has stressed that the accuracy of the report cannot be assumed until she has a chance to meet with Borowicz, which she said she planned to do this week.
But Bartley said he is more concerned about the budget issues that were raised last week when Phillips, who has been the interim director since Richardson’s departure, outlined other financial issues. “I’m more concerned from a budget standpoint with numbers moving around in that department,” Bartley said.
Last week, Bartley expressed concern about the irrigation budget for the department being $200,000 short, requiring the city to increase it by that amount next year.
“Where did that money come from if we were off by a couple hundreds thousands dollars?” Bartley asked Phillips. “We don’t have a printing press in the basement.”
Phillips said the department had previously used “unexpended funds” within the department to pay those costs.
Another issue was the status of the repair of the fish fountain in Prince Memorial Park, which was shut down by state health regulators for failing to have the proper filtration system.
“We budgeted money to fix it. Where is that money?” Bartley asked.
Phillips replied that the water feature needs more than just a filter, and actually needs bathrooms to be constructed nearby. Given the city’s lack of funds to either build or maintain new restrooms there, the department decided to leave the fountain off. It instead spent the money budgeted for the fix on other maintenance priorities in the department, Phillips said last week.
On Tuesday, City Manager Kathy Millison did not exactly commit to a full audit of the department. Instead, she said she would provide the council with “actual expenditures compared to budget” in the hopes of answering council members’ questions.
Regarding the golf course, Millison said it was important to first meet with Borowicz to go over the the operational review.
“If that doesn’t answer our questions adequately, then we can go further into formal auditing,” Millison said.
Council members pressed Millison to return within 30 days with a report, but she couldn’t guarantee much additional detail by then, agreeing to return as quickly as possible.
“We understand the urgency and the importance of having some discussion on the council,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @citybeater