Auditor finds more funds issues in Rec departmentBy Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | November 08,2013An outside auditor has uncovered further irregularities in the Recreation and Parks Department, a city alderman said Thursday.
Former recreation superintendent EJay Bishop resigned over the summer after it was revealed he had spent $47,000 on architectural services without the permission of the Board of Aldermen, drawing the money from the recreation activities fund.
Alderman Christopher Siliski, chairman of the city’s Finance Committee, said the outside auditor, Randal Northrup of St. Johnsbury, informed the Finance Committee this week there was at least one other instance of misdirected money involving that fund, pointing to a need for greater controls.
“Fees that should have been going into the general fund were being transferred into the recreation activities fund,” Siliski said Thursday. “The general fund fronted the Recreation Department approximately $30,000 for software to help them manage certain rec activities.”
City Treasurer Wendy Wilton said a $3 “player tax” was assessed on participants in certain recreation programs and that the revenue was supposed to go to repay the $30,000 to the general fund.
“It didn’t,” Siliski said. “The extra money that was generated went into the recreation activities fund. It was creating a sort of slush fund that could be accessed a little less transparently.”
Wilton characterized the placement of the money in the rec activities fund more generously, saying Bishop was trying to “warehouse” the money there.
“I think, on some levels, the Rec Department either didn’t understand or failed to get permission and were charging a little bit extra sometimes so they could have a cushion for different programs,” she said.
Wilton also said there was an instance where Bishop placed money in the general fund when it should have gone to rec activities. The department collected fees and donations for senior excursions run out of the Godnick Center, she said, and the general fund has roughly $15,000 from that revenue which should be moved to recreation activities.
Wilton said she had long wanted to take a detailed look at the Recreation Department’s accounting, but was unable to get detailed information from Bishop. She offered praise to Bishop’s successor, newly confirmed Superintendent Cindi Wight.
“Cindi has been wonderful and really cooperative and wants everything set up properly in her department,” Wilton said. “I applaud her for that.”
Siliski had initially joined the call for a forensic audit of the Recreation Department before changing his vote — the issue remains outstanding due to a standoff between the board and the mayor. Siliski said the latest revelation would not change his vote back.
“The forensic audit is meant to delve into any suspected case of stealing, of a person from city government taking taxpayer money and putting it in his pocket or the pocket of a friend,” he said. “This does not constitute that.”
Indeed, as with the $47,000 in expenditures, Siliski pointed out that it was the city’s standard auditing practice that turned up this irregularity.
Just because there is no need for a forensic audit, he said, that doesn’t mean there is nothing the city itself should do.
He said the committee spoke with Northrup and Wilton about creating special funds that would allow nontax revenue in the Recreation Department to be handled more transparently, and drafting guidelines for how department heads may access money from sources other than the general fund.
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