Audit of Cincinnati Park Board, Park Foundation now expected to be complete in mid-July

Independent review likely to enter second phase
Audit of Cincinnati Park Board, Park Foundation now expected to be complete in mid-July
Posted at 1:55 PM, Jun 27, 2016

CINCINNATI -- An independent audit of the Cincinnati Park Board and Cincinnati Parks Foundation, now expected to be complete by mid-July, seems likely to continue even after that initial review wraps up.

Mayor John Cranley called for the audit of parks finances when questions arose about the board's spending habits in October, while he and the Park Board were asking voters to approve a new tax for the parks system on Election Day. Voters ultimately rejected the measure.

The city routinely audits tax money budgeted to the parks, so the focus of the independent, $45,000 review is the interconnected relationship between the board and foundation, a private nonprofit funded through donations and endowments.

The city's contract with Chicago-based firm Crowe Horwath LLP called for a first phase of the audit to be completed by May 30, but City Manager Harry Black said it's "almost impossible" to set a hard date to finish an audit, "because you're exploring various angles you may encounter things that require additional review and querying."

He declined to elaborate on any issues the auditors found that needed a more in-depth look.

Some council members were frustrated they were voting on a budget for the Park Board before seeing the results of the audit. But Black cautioned it shouldn't be rushed.

"This audit, as far as I'm concerned, is functioning as I would expect any audit to function," he said.

Right now, Black said auditors are looking at internal controls and processes -- who touches funds, where, how and when. The audit is expected to recommend changes to fix any problems or weaknesses in those controls.

And there's likely to be a second phase of the audit, Black said, which is mentioned as a possibility in the contract with Crowe Horwath. The city asked the firm to make some recommendations about a possible next phase, which, according to the contract, could include a look at the board's and foundation's purchasing and contracting practices.

Earlier this year, Black sharply criticized the board's use of master service agreements to build Smale Riverfront Park instead of putting the overall project out for bid, going so far as to say city law was violated in the process. The Park Board said in response it follows city regulations, and several council members came to the board's defense.

"I think that the findings will be sufficient enough to justify some sort of a phase two treatment," Black said Monday. He added the scope of the next phase may change based on what's found during the current audit.

Former parks director Jack Wilson set up the foundation in 1995; it remained closely linked to the public park board for more than 20 years, with the city's parks director and park board members overseeing its work and approving appointments to the private foundation's board.

In 2010, an incomplete city audit raised concerns over the relationship between the board and the private foundation. Then a month ago, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation filed documents to separate itself from the public Cincinnati Park Board, which included removing Carden as the foundation's agent and placing executive director Jennifer Spieser in that role.

As part of the audit, Black asked Spieser for, among other documents, financial records from the foundation, its conflict of interest policy, and policies around distributing grants and management of its endowments.

Carden and Marijane Klug, parks' financial services director, are under scrutiny for their management of foundation funds. In 2013, the pair signed a settlement with the Ohio Ethics Commission for receiving foundation bonuses totaling nearly $100,000. The two were ordered to pay half of the money back.