TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn this week promised changes to the city's underperforming Clean City program, and the City Council made plans Thursday to look over his shoulder on that.
"I don't know yet what this is going to look like when we're done with it, but I can tell you it's going to look different than it does now," Buckhorn said of the Clean City division, whose 48 employees work to reduce litter, graffiti, illegal dumping and overgrown vegetation on 355 miles of roads and medians.
In a new report, internal auditors concluded that the division:
• Does not have records to ensure properties are being maintained on schedule.
• Has used city credit cards for nonofficial expenses, including $467 in decorations and party supplies and $850 for a granite marker placed in a city park to honor someone who made a lasting impact to the community. The plaque, however, listed only a local organization as the marker's sponsor, not the city.
• Twice split the purchase of landscaping materials into two credit card transactions in an apparent attempt to circumvent the city's requirement that purchases of more than $2,000 take place only after officials seek three quotes.
• Last year bought $40,572 worth of weed trimmers, leaf blowers and other small equipment, more than half of which has not been issued — a fact that auditors said raised questions about the necessity of the purchase.
• Fails to respond to requests for service in a timely way. Auditors sampled 30 requests and found 18 in which the division's first response came after the request was closed, which ranged from seven to 63 days. The average was 31 days.
"We've already implemented virtually every recommendation that the auditors suggested," said Buckhorn, who said the division performs an important service. "It's boots on the ground in neighborhoods that need it, doing things that are important. We just need to do them better, in a more coordinated fashion, with more accountability."
On Thursday, the City Council voted to ask for a report on the administration's follow-through at its Feb. 7 meeting. Council member Harry Cohen called the audit "particularly troublesome," especially since council members often hear from residents with problems or questions about Clean City's work.
"I think all of us have labored under the impression that our largest challenge in dealing with these items was a lack of resources and a lack of funding to do everything that needed to be done," he said. "What this audit shows more than anything is that we don't really know if that's accurate anymore."