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Former parks chief says city should audit departments and EWOs regularly

OPINION: Baltimore needs to track its "fiscal DNA," says long-serving administrator.

Chris Delaporte, a veteran parks administrator and former Baltimore director of Recreation and Parks, in 2009

Chris Delaporte, a veteran administrator and former city director of Recreation and Parks.

Photo by: The Park Advocate Facebook site

Despite what Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on the Marc Steiner radio show last week, Baltimore City does not audit at any level the extra work orders (EWOs) that The Brew has been documenting (here and here).

Her honor knows this.

Everyone with any experience in City Hall, especially on the mayor’s executive staff, the key folks in the Finance Department – they all know: Baltimore does not routinely and independently audit its departments nor its various functions and contract changes, such as EWOs.

The mayor may have meant that EWOs are double-checked, or that they are “tracked,” so that overages can be charted – though I doubt that even happens – but they are not audited.

The central point for auditing an EWO, or change order, is to determine if the proposed work remains inside the original scope of work or whether it begins to redefine the project in ways not contemplated in the original contract.

Chris Delaporte

Chris Delaporte

The issue, however, in city government in 2012 – above all others – will be the full revelation that Baltimore does not audit the government’s departments.

This issue, as it begins to emerge, will be very painful and become worse the longer it simmers.

But it may not simmer if the City Council – prodded by the public – decides to act and insist on audits.

The mayor’s transition team recommended that there be an audit of the Capital Development and Planning Division of the Department of Recreation and Parks; the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board also recommended that there be an audit.

But that hasn’t happened.

Please don’t drag out the old canard that there is no money to be “found” to do the job when there’s plenty around for EWOs and the like.

What hangs in the balance if this audit is not performed at a standard agreed to by the parties of interest?

Well, I know that city foundations are reluctant to give grants to the department and that many friends of the parks groups are scratching their heads as well, over a department that is constantly finding and losing money.

“Fictional Drill” Over the Budget

So what is in the balance? It is the department’s very relevance to our city; a department of good employees who every day wonder at what is going to be the next knock in the head; a department that is shrinking – not downsizing, or reinventing itself – but facing foreclosure by a City Hall that always seems to know how to find the money for the very things they say they can’t or won’t operate, such as the city swimming pools.

Is all of this annual theater about operating our city swimming pools necessary? Do key executives in City Hall realize that this little, annual swimming pool adventure achieves, well, practically nothing? Everyone knows how it will end up. It should be embarrassing to City Hall to continue this fictional drill each year.

Much of the Recreation and Parks Department should be altered, reinvented, rearranged and so forth. But how can that be objectively and reasonably accomplished without an independent audit that documents the department’s fiscal DNA?

Any serious discussion of the department’s future would be mired – and I mean mired – in trying to understand its finances.

Those “Problem” Swimming Pools

Just try to get the facts about how it has come to be that the Rawlings-Blake Administration, with all of its City Hall talent, can’t run the city’s swimming pools. Try. Then try again. It’s a fool’s errand to try to figure out where the money is or where it has gone.

It is now three years in a row that the task of operating the city’s pools has become a “problem.” But no one is responsible for this problem. If this were to happen in other cities there would be council hearings, a task force, perhaps even an independent investigation by a blue ribbon panel. Someone would have to be held to account.

Not in Baltimore. We just can’t “find the money.”

The auditing issue is already a done deal. People of power may not recognize that fact and be ready to form a circle and sing Amazing Grace, but they will recognize it soon enough.

They’ll have to explain why it is that our city’s leadership wants to raise taxes and fees when it can’t find the money it supposedly has.

Find – and Account for – ALL the Money

How about this as a mantra for the administration: We intend to look and find all of the money we have, document those findings by an independent audit, share the information, all of it, with the public and initiate public meetings all over the city.

Then department directors can explain how much money they have, their funding sources, their prevailing balances; their obligations and “carry forwards,” their receivables, and amount of funds tied up in purchase orders, and most precious of all, their special accounts – those “off the books.”

Look at this water bill situation. (Did anyone get called to account for presiding over that mess?) An audit would have discovered this problem years ago and the necessity of one citizen taking four years out of her life to finally get this problem addressed and resolved, as reported, would have not been necessary.

In some cities the effort of a citizen like Linda Stewart, the “Water Bill Woman,” would have been praised by city hall. Maybe she would have been given a photo op with the mayor. There might have been a resolution by the city council thanking her for saving the citizens untold hours, fuss and trouble contesting a water bill. Think of the trouble people had to go through trying to find out the truth – whatever it might have been – about a water bill.

Now imagine people across our city who have the instinct and interest to play a contributing role – of some type – in helping our recreation and parks department, but can’t get sure footed in doing so because people are “looking for the money.”

This constant refrain no longer works. It has become everyone’s easy excuse to step back, retreat, bow out, leave the room, promise “I’ll get back to you,” whatever.

This culture has to end.

Comprehensive, solid audits of our departments would bring to a close the Era of Looking for Money.

I can attest: having run five government agencies at the federal, state and city levels and being accountable for spending millions of taxpayers dollars, the most delicious privilege of all is spending other peoples money.

It is made even more special, really super-duper special, if one does not have to be accountable for spending it.
_________________________
Chris Delaporte was Baltimore’s Recreation and Parks Director in the 1980s under Mayor William Donald Schaefer, interim Chief of the Parks Bureau under Mayor Martin O’Malley, and, most recently, a member of the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board. He was a co-founder of the Parks & People Foundation and serves as the city’s Park Advocate. He can be reached at theparkadvocate@gmail.com.

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  • glsever

    Thank you Chris – you continue to offer a wealth of knowledge and insight into a ridiculous problem that does not need to exist.

    Here is a link to the most recent correspondence from the Parks Board to the Mayor, stating the audit as one of the many concerns:  http://blogs.citypaper.com/index.php/2012/04/parks-board-to-mayor-enough-is-enough/

  • bosconet

     I just grabbed the Steiner show to review what Madam Mayor had to say re: Extra Work Orders here is the quote:

    “We do audit, we track who’s putting in Extra Work Orders how much over original estimate is, are these Extra Work Orders amounting to it can be a problem, an abuse if you aren’t tracking it. it can happen while we don’t want Extra Work Orders there is a process you don’t just put in a Extra Work Orders and get paid it has to be verified and we also balance it against what you said you were going to be able to do and see if you have a history of what we say are questionable work orders.”

    So I don’t think Madam Mayor actually understands what audit means.

    Also Marc sadly missed an easy follow-up to ask if those items you just stated are true why do the BOE meeting last such a short time that it at least gives the appearance the board is rubber stamping al requests?

    And the follow up to that is why don’t you put ALL the data related to a contract online so it can be reviewed by the public who’s money you are spending.

  • MairZdoatz

    Really refreshing to hear the truth instead of just knowing it! Thanks, Mr. Delaporte!

  • Rocky Ground

    Amen, Mr. Delaporte

  • Waterbillwoman

    The city has also received and paid over a MILLION  DOLLARS for
    incorrect water bills.

    The amount of money that Recreation and Parks has been over charged for
    water could be used to keep the pools open or prevent some recreations
    center from closing. The information I have needs to be made public.  Where is the audit departments???

    • Chris T. Delaporte

      I respect and admire you. I would sincerely like to meet you and buy lunch.  Much good will come of it; in fact I predict here and now there is going to be formed a kinda fellowship of citizens in town who meet on a regular basis to tell tales about government officials who have told us some Whoppers.

      Please e-mail me, and let’s set up lunch.  I want to thank and honor you for for saving our citizens millions of dollars.

      Chris T. Delaporte
      The Park Advocate

  • ABG91

    I would love to see an audit and know why they never did repairs on Druid Hill Park’s fields
    before Deanna Green was electrocuted there on May 5, 2006. Go back and look at the records. No one wants to talk about this but I am pretty sure that is what is in the reports.

    It was always put off that is way city is holding back from discovery in our case. We have been waiting going on 6 years and the city is still shuffling their feet. Someone please do the audit. There needs to be some checks and balances. My biggest question is why calls for audits never happen. Come On Baltimore, Wake-UP.   

    • Tom Kiefaber

      AGB91:

       Thank you for invoking in this forum the memory of the late Deanna Green, electrocuted in Druid Hill park on May 5th 2006. Her awful, pointless death is a poignant reminder that our city’s embedded and tolerated culture of lax-no-accountability isn’t just oppressive and corrupt for the citizens, it can also be tragic and deadly. The tragedy suffered by Ms. Green and her family should be the driving force  for the cause of *independent*  auditing each and every one of Baltimore’s often ossified departments to bring them into the 21 century, and keep them that way, open and accountable to the citizens.     

  • Tom Kiefaber

    Wow. What an extraordinary, candid  assessment  by Mr. Delaporte, logically laying out the truth from a seasoned insider’s perspective. A co-founder of Parks and People Foundation as well. 

    I’m speechless that an individual with Delaporte’s credentials and credibility has gone there, so to speak, in an effort to inform the public. What was claimed on the record by our city’s highest elected official about what actually occurs or doesn’t with city audits is simply false. As citizens, our embedded culture of obfuscation and deceit cannot be tolerated. 

    Bravo Mr. Delaporte. The information you have shared will help to bring the real reforms required to set our city on a corrected course of openness and accountability. Perhaps a rising public chorus for federal interventions will bring the long overdue changes required?  

  • Dumbfounded

    This is completely unacceptable. City council must take action to address this. I think the hardest thing to understand is how a mayor could not think that this is something that needs to be resolved. What is to be gained by ignoring the problem? Doing audits should be SOP. What can be done to bring pressure to bear?

  • Ktrueheart

    Very enlightening Mr. Delaport … Thanks for sharing!  I agree that we must demand the level of accountability you’ve described and an email or phone call to our council members from every reader of this article can make that happen.

  • Unellu

    I am astounded that the mayor did not know Baltimore City does not audit the EWOs.  How could she not have known this?  There is absolutely no accountability in a city that skirts audits.  Anything goes.  If large sums of money go missing who would know or care?  The books could be cooked, monies embezzled, misspent or mislaid, bills lost, accounting errors made–and all of this will simply pile on sending the city into a fiscal down spin.  Self monitoring will not do.  It leads to rank corruption.  The city’s various departments need external impartial auditors to do the math–the results should be on line for the consumption and analysis of the media, experts and the general public.  Baltimore city is running an opaque show and that makes the city’s outlays of monies vulnerable to plunder and profligacy.  Mr.Delaporte–it is a “delicious privilege” to read this article.   

  • Maryland Esquire

    Your opinion applies to Baltimore City, as well as any government.  My belief is that agencies should be routinely auditing contracts, change orders, and modifications.  Such auditing, if done properly, takes significant time and money to do and can be politically unfavorable.  What agencies should do is welcome with open arms procurement auditors.  If the procurement process is flawed, there should be a willingness to change and improve the process.  A better procurement process results in a system where fair and equitable treatment rules which, in turn, will lead to more competition and a better value received for taxpayer dollars spent.

  • http://othervoicesfromcharlesvillage.blogspot.com/ Christian

    It is now time for the greater community of Baltimore to get together and demand a government of the people, rather than of the developers and many people are now leaning in that direction.  In fact we are working on establishing a coalition of communities to sit down at a table, each one having the same rights as the others at that table and attempt to put out a statement to our government that we want change and we want it now.  We want money for the schools so that all children get a good education, we want police protection for ourselves and our homes  and we want to live in a clean community, which can easily be accomplished.  Stop giving the tax income to developers and start investing in the communities of this great city.

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