Fla. Sen. Abruzzo: Delray CRA audit results ‘alarming’

An auditor general’s office preliminary audit of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency has come back with findings of 19 instances of questionable practices, and even the state senator who requested the audit didn’t expect the number to be so high.

“It surprises me,” state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, said Friday. “Some of the tentative findings, if they are included in the final report, are troubling.”

josephabruzzoBut CRA Executive Director Diane Colonna said she wasn’t bothered by the findings.

“I truthfully don’t think there’s anything there of any consequence,” she said Friday, noting that the CRA’s board of directors had discussed the responses Thursday night.

“Our board was very pleased with it last night,” she said.

One of those board members, Annette Gray, said the audit’s findings were little to be alarmed about.

The audit’s findings, the CRA’s response and supporting documentation, are below.

With a background in the Boynton Beach CRA and the Downtown Development Authority in West Palm Beach, she said the audit’s findings are only to be expected in an organization the size of the Delray Beach CRA.

“There wasn’t anything on that … that troubled me or gave me concern,” she said. “I don’t know why there’s a fraction of people who think we’re supposed to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect.”

“Did we get an A-plus? Maybe not. But I am pretty proud of our staff.”

The findings are only preliminary, Abruzzo stressed, and would still be reviewed by the auditor general before they are presented to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee for possible action. Abruzzo is chairman of that committee.

But Colonna said she doesn’t expect many changes between the preliminary report and a final version because the CRA staff had worked closely on it with the state.

“It was a pretty exhaustive process,” she said.

The findings range from questioning CRA practices, such as leasing space at Old School Square from the city of Delray Beach and subleasing it at a considerable loss to the Puppetry Arts Center and the Creative City Collaborative, to how it administers business development grants, buys property and even maintains its contract with its legal counsel.

In its response, the CRA acknowledged some problems and stated it would take steps to address them, such as reviewing its subleasing procedures. In other areas, however, such as funding for tourism promotional activities that appear to be outside of a CRA’s legal mandate, it said it relied on the opinion of its legal staff.

Aside from the number, Abruzzo said the varied nature of the possible problems was unusual.

“They’re in a wide range of areas, which is concerning as an operation,” Abruzzo said. “The whole operation of the CRA seems to have issues, which tends to be alarming.”

The audit process officially started when Abruzzo asked the Legislative Audit Committee to approve it at an April 1 meeting in Tallahassee. Approval was unanimous.

“I’ve stated several times, I hope it comes back and there’s no findings,” Abruzzo said. “In every audit we issue, it is my hope it comes back [clear]. Unfortunately, it is clear in this audit that won’t be the case.”

Gray said there were no problems that can’t be addressed.

“Mistakes were made, but mistakes can be fixed,” she said.

“I didn’t see any crimes committed in that report. I didn’t see any fraud committed in that report.”

Colonna declined to comment on what might happen when the audit reaches Abruzzo’s committee, but said she was glad the audit’s findings and the CRA’s response were available for the public to read and form their own conclusions.

Does she think anyone will?

“Fair-minded people,” she said.

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