Committee to review Riviera Beach audit

RIVIERA BEACH A legislative committee will publicly examine a state audit that blasts record-keeping and accounting practices at the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency, the committee's chairman said.

The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee will hear testimony in February from the state Auditor General's Office, city officials and "other interested parties" regarding the 29-page audit on Riviera Beach, said State Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, the committee's chairman. Domino, who met Monday in Tallahassee with committee staff, said a date hasn't been set for next month's meeting, but the bipartisan group is poised to review the audit in detail.

"Clearly, it's at the level of gravity where we've agreed to put this on our agenda," Domino said. "Depending on the nature of the responses, we will then decide what next steps to take."

In October 2005, the committee voted to have the auditor general examine spending at the city and the CRA after residents' complaints. The committee, which has subpoena power, couldn't pursue gathering additional information in light of the audit if the city were under criminal investigation, Domino said.

Rose Anne Brown, the city's spokeswoman, said Riviera Beach officials are prepared to respond to the committee's requests. "We welcome the opportunity," she said.

The audit, which was made public Dec. 27, issued 25 findings and recommendations. It also included responses from the city and the CRA to each finding.

Auditors found unpaid sales taxes, inadequate documentation for credit card purchases and a lack of competitive bids for repairs to Wells Recreational Center. Employees used city credit cards to pay for groceries, car repairs and clothing. In several instances, however, a lack of receipts made it difficult for auditors to determine whether the expenditures were for public or personal purposes.

In another finding, the city contracted with a resident who was also a member of a city advisory board. Auditors deemed the contract a conflict of interest and a violation of state law.

At the CRA, auditors determined that consultants were paid millions of dollars for work although invoices weren't provided. Expenses at the CRA weren't always supported by receipts, either.

In a written response to state auditors, the city and the CRA said measures were either already in place or being reviewed to tighten financial controls. Some improvements required buying new software while others included limiting the use of the city's credit cards.

The audit, meanwhile, has created a stir throughout the city, especially among those who pushed for the probe. A Singer Island group, Citizens for Responsible Growth in Riviera Beach, has posted the audit on its Web site and is encouraging residents to call or write to Domino and other committee members.

Bill Contole, president of the citizens' group, said his organization provided information to auditors and looks forward to the committee meeting. Contole also supports another group, the Public Beach Coalition, that is suing the city to undo the recent approval by the city council for builder Dan Catalfumo to lease the city's beach for 50 years in order to do a $280 million makeover of the Ocean Mall on Singer Island.

"This is something everyone is upset over," Contole said. "I can only hope they can get to the bottom of this and restore the people's faith in their government."