Tucson's Parkwise problems rampant, audits say

2011-08-26T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T14:43:14Z Tucson's Parkwise problems rampant, audits sayRob O'Dell Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 26, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Mismanagement of the city's parking program contributed to the inability to account for thousands of dollars in parking revenues, confidential bid documents leaked to competitors, theft and a hostile work environment, three city audits of the department show.

The city has referred three potential criminal cases to the Arizona Attorney General's Office involving actions at Tucson Parkwise.

City Attorney Mike Rankin said it gave the audits and all available documents to the AG's office Thursday, a day after they were provided to the Arizona Daily Star under a public records request.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Jette said he received the city files but has yet to look through them.

Some of the audit findings include:

• $9,000 in parking garage revenues that cannot be accounted for.

• Eight months' worth of revenues that cannot be properly reconciled in the accounting ledgers.

• A supervisor fired for leaking confidential bid documents.

• Inadequate control of keys to parking meters and sensitive information.

• Time cards that don't reflect actual hours worked.

City Manager Mike Letcher called the culture and actions of Parkwise employees "unacceptable" and said the problems are "not reflective of how the city operates."

"People have a right to be outraged. I am outraged," Letcher said.

Letcher blamed the top management of Parkwise - which was run by Program Director Chris Leighton for years - for the problems and vowed to hold employees accountable. Although the first audit was done in November 2010, the city has completed the disciplinary process for only one employee cited in the audit, Rankin said. The final audit was finished in late July.

Leighton said he couldn't comment because of the open investigation into Parkwise.

Leighton is still the Parkwise director, but the operation is no longer autonomous. It has been put under the control of the General Services Department

While Letcher said he would go after those responsible, his staff said doing it could be problematic. "There's only so much we can do going backwards at this time," city Budget Director Marie Nemerguth said.

Rankin said the near-complete lack of records hinders finding who is responsible. "That's the disadvantage when records are inadequately kept. You don't know."

Assistant City Manager Sean McBride said the city took action as soon as it learned of problems by asking Leighton for an action plan. Employees were counseled but not disciplined.

McBride said Leighton's action plan was not "to the level I needed it to be." As a result, control of Parkwise was transferred to the General Services Department in February. General Services, however, did not assign an employee to the department full time until April.

Letcher said the audits were done after employees came forward, but he added the city has to do a better job of ferreting out problems before they become so big. The city needs to do more audits of departments from "top to bottom" each year, he said. "We're going to have to find ways to be more proactive. "

Democratic Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said Letcher is working to "clean up this mess. … What's happening right now is exactly what needs to be happening."

Republican Councilman Steve Kozachik said he found it hard to believe the city put the department that has had problems with 911 system in charge of fixing Parkwise. He said the audits of Rio Nuevo used the term "gross mismanagement," which could also apply here.

"Our answer is internal reorganizations - moving the same pieces around on the chessboard," Kozachik said. "Let's not be surprised if there comes a day soon when one of those audits or investigations calls out checkmate and we have to face the music of years of mismanagement."

What the Parkwise audits showed

• Parkwise cannot reconcile cash receipts and revenue in its accounting system for an eight-month period, including $9,000 in cash from the Pennington Street Garage. The question of the missing funds was referred to the Arizona attorney general's criminal division, city officials said. There was no schedule for depositing revenue when it was collected. Tina Thompson, the supervisor who oversaw the finances for the eight months in question, resigned in May. She could not be reached for comment.

• Ricardo Martinez, who was the department's parking services supervisor, was fired for sending copies of one bidder's proposal for new parking meters to a competing bidder. Martinez was fired after he admitted to a supervisor he faxed the copy to the bidder. The case was referred to the AG, and the city had to rebid the contract. Martinez could not be reached for comment. However, in a written response to his termination, he said he felt the bidding process had already been tainted in favor of the other company by others and he was just trying to correct that impropriety.

• Too many employees have access to sensitive information. City employees could manipulate a parking permit database to understate revenue from permits, the audit said, which could allow them to take money from the system.

• Parkwise had inadequate control of the keys to parking meters, which resulted in the theft of the canisters from 92 meters. The theft cost the city as much as $70,000, including lost revenue and repairs to meters. This case was also referred to the AG.

• Employees complained a supervisor and his deputy frequently met behind closed doors for as long as six hours. One witness said they had seen the two "caressing" and was traumatized by it. The supervisor said he simply tried to grab the deputy when she was stepping off the curb. A memo said the two had been counseled "on the need to limit the amount of time they engage in either professional and/or personal behavior behind 'closed doors.' "

• Martinez acknowledged routinely and intentionally refusing to answer phone calls from customers or his employees. He was counseled but not disciplined.

• The Parkwise culture was "permeated with mistrust, gossip/rumors, unprofessionalism, and a lack of communication" that contributes to a "non-cohesive work environment."

• Time cards submitted by employees were wrong, missing, didn't match hours worked and were not reviewed by supervisors. More than one-quarter of time cards reviewed were not signed by supervisors, and 27 percent of leave cards were not signed by supervisors.

Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or rodell@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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