Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Auditors Found Bus System in Disarray

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Auditors Found Bus System in Disarray

Article excerpt

SCAT: Report focuses on a troubling lack of financial safeguards

SARASOTA COUNTY -- Despite repeated warnings, the department running the county's bus system remained in such disarray this year that auditors found envelopes full of cash lying around on employees' desks.

A clerk of courts audit of the Sarasota County Area Transit department released this week illuminates in stark detail just how mismanaged it was.

County Administrator Randall Reid ordered the audit after the former head of SCAT, Anthony Beckford, resigned in March. Reid said the problems occurred under Beckford's leadership, and a new director is in the process of fixing them.

Of the problems auditors uncovered, Reid said, "I think some of them are so elementary it's disappointing."

Among the findings of the auditors:

nEnvelopes full of cash and checks -- revenue from bus riders -- were found unattended on the desks of employees.

nA bad contract for bus parts meant the county was sometimes paying triple what it should have for replacements.

nBecause the county did not implement a routine grant requirement, it lost out on $26,000 in grants.

nData on bus ridership was not regularly reconciled with records of money collected to make sure the figures matched.

nA vault to hold money collected had few safeguards. For example, the door to the vault was outside in an unsecured area. After two employees were terminated, no one disabled their access codes to the vault. Cameras inside had "significant" blind spots.

"The lack of controls noted throughout this report cause a high level of risk that county assets could be misused without detection," the auditors wrote.

The county's bus system handles nearly three million riders a year. Between fare revenues and local, state and federal dollars, the department has an annual budget of about $19 million.

Beckford, the former SCAT director, resigned in March after it was discovered that half the buses in the fleet had expired fire extinguishers on board.

He could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Reid said he has been trying recently to work more closely with the clerk's auditing department to identify problems and get suggestions for improvement. The clerk has released about a dozen audits in recent months.

Reid was hired after numerous problems with purchasing practices were revealed last year, leading to the resignation of his predecessor, Jim Ley. It is now apparent that mismanagement extended beyond contract oversight.

When Reid first began the job in January, he said he heard numerous complaints about various problems, but that they were often hearsay and hard to prove. The renewed focus on using audits, he said, will provide concrete evidence of problems and steps toward solutions.

An audit the clerk completed in 2009 found similar problems with the SCAT department, but it was never made public and apparently ignored. …

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