CLEARWATER ― At most any other city department, the police report would not have made a ripple.
After all, the investigation by the Clearwater Police Department found no evidence of a crime. The only damning revelation was that a handful of employees at a recreation center improperly handled cash transactions.
But Clearwater Parks and Recreation is not most city departments. In 2018, it was revealed that a Parks employee had, over a period of years, stolen more than $100,000 in cash from the city.
The details of that case shed light on cash management practices by the department, which has an operating budget this year of $31.8 million. A September 2018 report by city investigators noted that were “no procedures or regulations in place” to make sure employees were accurately entering information into the city’s payment software, RecTrac.
Parks Director Kevin Dunbar and his assistant director were formally admonished by City Manager Bill Horne for "failure to ensure appropriate oversight and internal control” over their department.
Investigators also found that multiple coworkers knew that the employee, Bob Carpenter, took money from the department. Those coworkers did not report it immediately. One of them, part-time recreation leader James Chapman, knew that Carpenter took city cash to pay for what Carpenter called a medical appointment. Chapman was suspended for three days by the city, but he ultimately kept his job.
Earlier this year, Carpenter pleaded guilty to stealing about $119,000. He was sentenced to 21 months in jail, and forced to forfeit nearly $30,000 in pension money.
Fast-forward to September 2019. When a resident reported what he believed to be improper money handling at the Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex, it was Chapman who again found himself embroiled in a city investigation. (Chapman could not be reached for comment.)
In a police report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times via a public records request, an investigator wrote that there was “no evidence” Chapman stole any money from the city. However, the investigation, which was initiated when a Parks employee reached out to the police, concluded that multiple employees at the complex failed to follow city rules for cash handling.
“While there are procedures in place in regards to how to conduct transactions, it does not appear that they are being followed,” the report reads.
When a player shows up for the first time at the McMullen Tennis Complex to reserve a court, a Parks employee is supposed to enter information about the player into RecTrac: name, address, date of birth, etc. At the busiest playing times, this can become a cumbersome process because the McMullen center has only one computer equipped with RecTrac, employees interviewed in the report said.
Workers at the tennis complex found a shortcut. Rather than logging each cash transaction with complete customer information, the person running the register would sometimes log transactions by hand and add them to the computer system later. Some large groups were logged under one name. And sometimes, customers weren’t handed receipts for the transactions ― a direct violation of department cash handling rules.
The McMullen Tennis Complex sees about $700 per day in transactions, Dunbar said. About a third of that is cash.
When asked what is to stop a rogue employee from pocketing city money if cash policies aren’t being followed, Dunbar outlined a number of proposed improvements to the system.
The city plans to add a second computer to the complex, hopefully relieving some of the pressure on employees to log transactions quickly. And Parks and Recreation has proposed putting all cash handling areas at city parks under video surveillance, Dunbar said.
One thing the city is not considering: adding more staff. The McMullen Tennis Complex does not have its own full-time supervisor, according to the police report. But Horne, the city manager, said in an interview that management means delegating.
“To a certain extent you have to trust people to be honest and to do their jobs in an honorable way,” Horne said.
Parks employees sign a form yearly stating that they have read the city’s cash handling policy, Dunbar said. The employees who were not following the policy ― Lori Burdell, Patrick Kane and David Bayer, according to the police report ― are going through city counseling, Dunbar said. Chapman resigned earlier this month for mental health reasons, the director said.
Cash handling hasn’t proven to be the only financial issue at Parks and Recreation. Earlier this year, the department’s special events division was put under audit after the Times reported it was not keeping precise track of profits or losses from certain city events.
Dunbar, the head of Parks and Recreation since 1999, has gotten two letters of admonishment from his boss, Horne, since last fall. One came in the wake of the 2018 incident; another in January when a city auditor investigated a tip stemming from 2017. She concluded Dunbar misused his position when he had two employees repair his home sprinkler system after work hours without paying them.
After the second letter, Horne warned Dunbar that “another breach” of his “confidence” would cost Dunbar his job.
When asked whether this latest incident in Dunbar’s department rose to that level, Horne was unequivocal.
“No, no,” Horne said. “The police report clearly shows where the issue is. And, by the way, the individual who is alleged to have stolen something didn’t steal anything. So we have to put all of this in context.”