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Safety Harbor plans audit in wake of official's firing

SAFETY HARBOR — While the city waits for the conclusion of the state attorney's investigation into the activities of former Safety Harbor Finance Director JoAnne Ryan, it is already looking at ways to better safeguard taxpayers' money.

Ryan, 48, was fired this month, two days after City Manager Matt Spoor discovered 44 unauthorized transactions on the city's American Express card totaling $12,909.

"We're obviously going to look at the computer system to track unusual transactions,'' said Mayor Andy Steingold. "From that, we will better direct a forensic accountant as to (the city's) financial matters.''

Steingold said this kind of examination is not something that can be completed overnight, that "some serious investigation will take place.''

"There needs to be better controls on expenditures,'' he said.

As for how far back in time the audit may go, "I don't think that's a question that can be answered right now,'' Steingold said.

He said he needs the City Commission's approval for such an in-depth review.

Ryan could not be reached for comment.

On the credit card statement, Spoor found charges for hotels, rental cars and youth basketball fees, among others. Most, he said, were for trips involving the Green Wave basketball program, which her daughters played for.

After Spoor confronted her, Ryan attempted to reimburse the city, writing an $8,800 check, but city officials were not satisfied. They contacted the State Attorney's Office, which has said the investigation may take several weeks.

"I'm saddened and disappointed (about) the devious nature these actions were carried out,'' Steingold said.

Three years ago, some Safety Harbor employees were issued Visa cards to make small purchases. In October, a handful of workers were given American Express cards.

To keep a tight rein on the credit card use, Ryan wrote a strict policy:

It says in part:

• The city of Safety Harbor purchasing card program is designed to improve efficiency in processing low-dollar purchases from any vendor that accepts a credit card. Authorized travel expenditures for designated employees may be procured with the purchasing card.

• The finance department will monitor the performance of the program (and) provide for disciplinary action if the purchasing cards are misused.

• The purchasing card is to be used for authorized city purchases only. The purchasing card may be used only within the limitations of the user's authorized spending for small purchases requiring no quotes and travel-related expenditures.

• The purchasing card cannot be used for any personal use and any such use will require immediate reimbursement and could result in a disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

• An employee misusing the card may be personally liable to the city for the amount of the purchases and subject to legal action.

"I don't think the City Commission knew these credit cards ever existed until this incident,'' said Steingold.

Ryan was employed by the city for 24 years and was its finance director for 18.

A former college basketball player, she has been active in her daughters' careers with the Clearwater Green Wave AAU program and the Clearwater High team. In 1998, she formed a nonprofit called the Clearwater High Lady Tornadoes Basketball Booster Club.

"These are very serious charges and allegations and there is an ongoing investigation,'' said City Commissioner Joe Ayoub. "Nothing's been proven yet.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Safety Harbor plans audit in wake of official's firing 08/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 3:54pm]

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