Parks Department audit

The Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries and Gender Pay Equity Committee heard an auditor’s report on the Department of Parks and Recreation’s leases and concession agreements. Committee chair Godden had requested the report, and asked them to look at two issues: whether the Parks Department has been collecting the money and other public benefits (e.g. providing free classes to youth) it is entitled to under their agreements; and how good the Parks Department processes are for managing these agreements.

Their presentation from this morning is here.

The good news: payments that were made to the Parks Department were all handled correctly.

The good news: there were a number of processes that needed to be updated.

First: cash handling and opportunities for employee misconduct. For example, the people handling cash should not be the same people entering those payments and updating tenant records.

Second: contract monitoring and handling late payments. About a quarter of the 80 payments they audits were late, with no record of followups. The auditor recommended that they implement an automated system to do this, rather than relying on manual processes (which are clearly failing).

Third: monitoring of public contractually-obligated public benefits. Not all the public benefit reports due were submitted by tenants, and the Parks Department didn’t request backup documentation to prove that those public benefits were actually delivered.  They also recommended that the Parks Department should do more active monitoring to ensure that those benefits are really going to the people intended.

Council member Rasmussen asked whether the auditors felt that the Parks Department staff were overworked. The auditors noted that they didn’t do a staffing analysis, and if asked to do so they would prefer to do it after their automation recommendations were implemented because they would likely change the workload on the staff.

Christopher Williams, Deputy Administrator of the Parks Department, agreed that his department could definitely benefit from automating much of the work they currently do by hand, and he agreed that doing so would allow them to use their existing staff more efficiently.

The auditors made one additional recommendation: that the Parks Department rearrange its books so that all the revenues and associated expenses for a particular property be brought together in one account — which would make it easier for them to know whether they are making or losing money on that property. That would require significant work by the Parks Department so they made it a lower priority recommendation, but they noted that it is a best practice in other organizations that manage properties like these. It’s difficult because currently co-located tenants might not have separate meters for water, power, etc. or separate tracking for building maintenance.

They also recommended that the Parks Department update their web page to advertise the public benefits so that people know that they are available.

Their final recommendation was to change the agreement structure for small business tenants: simplifying lease agreements to be a flat monthly fee instead of revenue-based,  using use permits instead of concession agreements, and consider the public benefit for the park and its users (including public safety) when calculating rent.

The Parks Department generally agreed with the recommendations and Williams claims they are taking steps to address them.

The auditors will issue annual follow-up reports on implementation of the recommendations.