In this era of increased vigilance of public officials, we're not surprised that some of DeFuniak Springs' practices were found wanting by a grand jury.
The findings revealed problems ranging from poor communication, antiquated bookkeeping techniques and a failure to maintain proper reserve account balances to lost or misspent funds and city guidelines dating back more than 100 years. A "certain culture" blocks the flow of information within City Hall, the grand jury found. And many of those entrusted to run the government had no idea how a government should be run.
The grand jury's findings were made public Wednesday. In the wake of their release, Mayor Robert Campbell told the Daily News that the city can benefit from the findings and become more "fruitful" as a city.
They have their work cut out for them. The grand jury was initially called to look into the loss of nearly $221,000 in state tax revenues. The losses were incurred in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when DeFuniak Springs failed to file timely audit reports for fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15. Grand jurors noted that the city today is less than 30 days away from forfeiting fiscal year 2015-16 funds by failing again to meet reporting deadlines. They reported hearing testimony from employees who had little knowledge of audit procedures and lacked understanding of the penalties.
“None of the city leaders were even aware that money had been forfeited until 2017,” the report said, “despite the fact that the first time money was forfeited was in December of 2015.”
Those are causes for concern and provide a blueprint for improvement.
Grand jurors also expressed concern over $368,000 in BP oil spill funds that were deposited into the city’s general fund and spent within 45 days of their arrival on Sept. 30, 2015.
“No one seemed to be aware that the funds had already been spent,” the report said. “It is frightening to think that over $368,000 could be received and expended without drawing the attention of anyone. In the future, unexpected funds should be designated for specific purposes.”
Campbell acknowledged infighting at City Hall, the need for change and the need to ask for help outside of the city. That help will likely include revamping the city charter, which dates back to 1903 and hasn't been updated much since. The ancient charter provides no reference to the form of city government in place in DeFuniak Springs. As a result, some employees have overlapping duties or report to more than one supervisor.
The grand jury recommended that the charter be revised by a committee assisted by a professional consultant and/or the Florida League of Cities.
The new charter should identify a specific form of government, a provision to review the charter every five years and clearer job descriptions for both the city manager and finance director, the grand jury said.
All of those sound like steps in the right direction. A problem can't be solved until it's identified. Time to get to work.