According to this report, our record keeping is sloppy, we're years behind in submitting financial information to various agencies, we've failed to collect payments owed to the city, our IT department is inadequate, overall the our entire financial management is in dire need of an overhaul.
This is sobering news. I'm not surprised that the audit found issues. I think it's fair to say we knew that we have some financial management issues. I am shocked at how complete the problem seems to be.
Mayor Correia has pointedly blamed the previous mayor for leaving the city is lousy financial shape. What surprises me is that for the last few months Ed Lambert has very publicly defended his administration. Why would Ed Lambert do this? Why would he argue that Mayor Correia is wrong, that his administration left the city in good shape with a financial surplus? Seriously, Bob is now on the 6th floor and has all the records at his disposal. Bob is the one having an audit done. Ed Lambert knows this and I can't figure out why he would defend his legacy if he knows his argument will be proven wrong. Don't tell me it's to try to salvage his legacy, because we call that digging ourselves in deeper.
I think Ed Lambert is much to savvy to defend his administration just to be humiliated when his defense is proven false. My guess is that he either did not know how badly the city's finances were being managed or that what we're now being told about this 'mismanagement' is being fed to us with a healthy does of spin.
Now, the former mayor is challenging the findings of the audit report. In a letter submitted the Herald News and sent to all members of the city council Mayor Lambert states that the report is factually wrong on many points.
Some of Mayor Lambert's points of contention are:
The auditor's report states that the city failed to collect approximately $800,000 in payments from the Fall River Housing Authority. Mayor Lambert states that the city actually collected $871,208.97. The former mayor says that documents, including canceled checks he was able to obtain bear this out.This brings up more questions than answers! What type of quality control went into this report? Who was responsible for providing information to the state? If the auditing team was having issues locating needed information why was the former mayor not contacted? Why was the city not able to provide information, that the former mayor, without benefit of staff, able to locate on his own in a matter of days?
The report states that losses on investments cost the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars." the former mayor states that the city actually accrued a net gain on these investments and cites a "total return of $727,116.40."
The auditor's report states a discrepancy of 1.5 million dollars existed between the city's books and bank statements. The report does not clarify that the error was in the city's favor and that the city actually had 1.5 million more than what was on the books.
How much are we paying for this audit?! If what Mayor Lambert says stands up to scrutiny the city should refuse to pay for such a botched audit. After reading the recent post on Fall River Community, I have to wonder if we should have requested an audit at all?!
Now, Ed Lambert isn't off the hook here. The auditor's report clearly points out severe flaws in how our financial management system works. Several audits performed by Hague and Sahady have also flagged issues. Why didn't the Lambert administration aggressively address these issues? In 2005 Mayor Lambert strongly opposed the need for and the cost of a state audit. However, referring again to the post on Fall River Community, why didn't he make use of free resources available through the state?
So where does the cause of our present budget problems lie? I'm not sure. The auditor's report that should have provided answers, is now in question and it seems like Ed Lambert is the victim of a witch hunt. It seems that Ed Lambert might have had a weak financial management team but prioritized maintaining city services. On the other hand it would appear that the financial team under Mayor Correia will be held accountable but city will just have to do less with less.