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State Auditor: Park Board Failed To Document Credit Card Spending

Jo Ingles
Ohio Public Radio
State Auditor Dave Yost

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost's annual audit of Cincinnati finances found what he says are some major problems in how the Cincinnati Park Board handles its money.In a "management letter" addressed to Mayor John Cranley and members of City Council, Yost said the board has been using a practice to account for its spending that "increases the risk that errors, theft and fraud could occur."

Among the findings of Yost's audit were:

  • Missing documentation for thousands of dollars in credit card charges and hundreds of dollars in gift card use;
  • That park officials allowed interest to accrue on credit cards, which public agencies are not allowed to do;
  • Spending on lobbyists, iTunes charges, and floral arrangements for board members on Reds' Opening Day.
  • The Parks Department used privately endowed money for salary bonuses and car allowances.

According to Yost, the credit card records show someone redeemed credit card points for a $100 gift card, with no information on the recipient.
Yost pointed out that the city maintains four endowment funds for bequests left to the city for specific purposes. But, Yost told the city the parks department failed to spend some of that money properly in some cases, including:

  • No supporting documentation for eleven purchases over three years on American Express credit cards totaling $1,422;
  • The Park Board did not provide itemized receipts for ten restaurant charges that totaled $861;
  • And did not provide an itemized receipt for a hotel charge totaling $1,797.

"The Park Board should ensure that purchases made from endowment funds are consistent with the purpose of the endowment,'' Yost wrote to city officials.
Last year, the city engaged a private accounting firm to analyze Park Board finances and make recommendations. That report by Crowe Horvath LLP was issued in July 2016 and made a number of recommendations.

Among the recommendations were that the Park Board obtain a memorandum of understanding among the board, the city, and the Parks Foundation; and that it prepare a comprehensive budget of all sources of anticipated revenues and expenditures.

It also recommended the Park Board utilize a double-entry accounting system to track its activities and balances.

As of yet, the Park Board has failed to follow through on any of those recommendations, Yost said.

Yost said in his letter that city officials have indicated they are working to bring the Park Board into conformity with applicable City Charter and Ohio Revised Code sections.

"We recommend the city continue this process to ensure that the Park Board financial practices are in conformity with applicable laws and to promote transparency and accountability of Park Board finances,'' Yost wrote.

Parks Director Willie Carden has said he intends to retire by the end of the year. He could not be reached immediately for this story. 

The mayor's press secretary, Holly Stutz Smith, told  WVXU:

The Mayor and his most recent appointees believe that implementing the reforms recommended by the audit is an urgent matter to maintain the public trust in our parks department, which, despite the need for reform, is a great asset to our community. The parks department is a public body under state law and all of its money is public money that needs to be accounted for publicly and transparently.

Outgoing Board of Park Commissioners President Otto Budig is also a member of the Cincinnati Public Radio board.

City of Cincinnati Parks Audit by WVXU News on Scribd