Audit blasts MPO spending, workplace policies
A recent audit has disclosed “serious inadequacies in the management and operation of the Lake-Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization.”
“We encourage all parties involved to carefully evaluate MPO operations, structure and the activities truly necessary to accomplish its mission,” wrote Bob Melton, inspector general with the Division of Inspector General’s audit. “Immediate action should be taken to correct these issues.”
The audit indicates that many MPO activities “are not approved, appropriate or in compliance with grant documents, contracts and other agreements.”
“There is a lack of accountability over expenditures of grant funds, including reporting false expenditures to the Florida Department of Transportation, the agency providing grants to the MPO,” the audit stated.
Melton also states in his report that MPO Director T.J. Fish has used the organizations funds for questionable purposes, from a “holiday cruise for MPO staff ($200) to numerous sponsorships paid to civic organizations.”
“We examined MPO transactions over a four-year period and found 34 instances where the MPO paid for sponsorships, including $400 for a sponsorship paid to benefit the Boy Scouts of America,” the audit stated.” Although the sponsorship may seem to be for a good cause, it does not serve a legitimate business purpose for the MPO and is an inappropriate expenditure of public funds.”
Those expenditures were not approved by the MPO board, the audit added.
Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione, chairwoman of the Lake-Sumter MPO Board, said the governing board was aware that MPO funds were used to buy banners and sponsorships.
“We are going to put together policies on discretionary funds, what discretionary funds can be used for and the level of spending,” she said.
Fish said he would implement the audit’s recommendations to the greatest degree possible.
He added he wants to make sure the organization complies with grant requirements, but he also insists that it has been all along.
“I am very dedicated to my job and the MPO,” he said. “When something like an audit occurs you can treat it as a negative or positive experience. These things can only help make us better.”
Campione said many of the recommendations, particularly in regard to grant tracking, have already been implemented.
The audit also raises questions about the organization’s ability to “operate an independent organization without cash flow assistance.
“The MPO is using the county’s cash in its bank account to float MPO operations,” the audit stated. “The situation is occurring off the books on a day to day basis because the MPO’s cash is commingled in the same bank account as county funds.”
If the MPO had its own bank account, it would be consistently operating in a deficit situation, and its operations could not continue, the audit stated.
“As of Dec. 31, 2015 the balance due to Lake County was $194,694.10,” the audit continued.
In response, Campione said: “As an organization which coordinates transportation planning for two counties and 19 cities, two school districts and a railroad company, and works directly on behalf of each of these entities to, it is extremely important that the Lake-Sumter MPO perform its statutory functions as efficiently as possible without duplicating county services that we are already paying,” she said.
The audit also has harsh criticism for Fish’s supervision of staff, activities and funds.
“The director has adopted a practice, without formal MPO Board approval, of largely working from home,” the audit stated. “He has allowed some of the staff members to also work from home a significant part of the week. He has not established adequate performance measures to ensure the staff members are actually working.”
Campione did not seem very concerned about that practice.
“I just want the job to get done and get done efficiently,” she said. “It is not uncommon for them to work with their computers wherever they are at. I want that position to have some flexibility.”