Atlantic City has made significant strides since a scalding 2010 audit from the Office of the State Comptroller found that mismanagement and inefficiency led to more than $23 million in waste, but there is still work to do, a follow-up report released Thursday found.
At the top of the to-do list is City Council, which not only ignored a recommendation to look at mileage reimbursement instead of members using take-home cars, but purchased three new vehicles totaling $63,660.
And while council got rid of most of its aides, as recommended, it kept two on under different titles, with the mayor’s sister making 46 percent more than the maximum under Civil Service guidelines and the collective bargaining agreement. The Comptroller’s Officer will refer that issue to the Civil Service Commission.
The city has implemented 27 of the 40 recommendations and partially implemented an additional 12.
“There are real efforts being made to comply with our original recommendations, but there is still a way to go,” state Comptroller Matthew Boxer said.
The city will provide a detailed action plan to show how it will fully implement the 13 recommendations not completed.
The only one not followed at all concerned the take-home cars for council members, with council failing to even maintain mileage logs as promised under its corrective action plan. Council then approved the purchase of 2013 Ford Explorers for three councilmen. A story in The Press of Atlantic City about those vehicles caused introduction of an Assembly bill that would ban cars for part-time elected officials.
“Any time we have a recommendation that is not implemented, it is a significant issue from our perspective,” Boxer said. “We’ll continue to monitor the situation and work to make sure that this recommendation is implemented. We’re also aware of the legislation that would preclude ... council members across the state from using public vehicles at all.”
Councilman George Tibbitt said Thursday he no longer takes his car home, instead picking it up when needed, such as during Hurricane Sandy. Councilman Mo Delgado said his 2013 vehicle helped him help others during the storm.
Mayor Lorenzo Langford referred all comment on the report to Revenue and Finance Director Michael Stinson. But Stinson said council is its own entity, and referred both the car issue and that of the mayor’s sister, Cheryl Banks, to Council President Speedy Marsh, who did not return calls seeking comment.
Banks was one of two council aides kept on despite the audit’s finding that Atlantic City shouldn’t have any such aides. In May 2011, she was promoted to chief clerk and received a 40 percent raise. A subsequent state Civil Service Commission audit found her title should be clerk typist 2, so she was demoted — but only in name. While her maximum pay should be $45,000, she is making nearly $66,000, city payroll records show.
Langford declined comment about his sister, aide Eddie Lax said, then pointed out that Banks has been a city employee for more than 20 years. While Banks does reach her 21-year anniversary next month, she is the highest paid of all 16 people with her same title, even though half have more seniority. One has been there almost 12 years longer than Banks and makes about $8,000 less, payroll records show.
There were several positives in the follow-up.
The audit’s largest calculated waste had been $9 million in tax-delinquent land that was not foreclosed on, including one property dating to 1975.
The city followed the recommendation to hire an attorney to assist in those foreclosures, and in 2011 foreclosed on 35 properties totaling about $2.9 million. They also made $287,400 in the public sale of 57 previously foreclosed properties, the report found.
“We’ve gone back the last couple of years and held at least two auctions every year,” Stinson said.
And after accrued sick time and police payouts cost the city millions, a Medical Monitoring Unit was formed to check the progress of sick and injured department employees and transition them back to the work force, the report states. The city has since reduced the number of employees on extended sick leave from 104 to seven.
That is considered “partially implemented” because the expired PBA contract has not yet been renegotiated to put in recommended caps.
“A lot of the pending ones are also very positive,” Stinson said. “The state just doesn’t consider them implemented.”
He pointed to a recommendation that the city hire a chief compliance officer. The report agreed most of those tasks are now covered. Hiring the additional person would cost about $150,000, Stinson said, adding that he’s not sure the Department of Community Affairs — which still has spending oversight — would allow the creation of a new position.
“Again, it’s a partial implementation, but a very positive partial,” he said. “I think we’ve made great strides in all aspects financially and operationally.”
“On behalf of the taxpayers, I am pleased the city is following the state’s advice and has begun chipping away at wasteful spending,” said Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, but he added: “The city’s refusal to act responsibly and implement the easiest recommendation of the comptroller is a prime example of government waste at taxpayers’ expense that drives the public crazy.”
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Follow @LyndaCohen on Twitter