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Kevin Beckner says decision by Hillsborough PTC to take money away from Clerk’s office ‘troubling’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission (PTC) is taking public money from the Hillsborough County Clerk’s Office due to mismanagement and woefully inadequate accounting practices with several egregious discrepancies.

WTSP-Channel 10 reported this week the PTC has “a long list of accounting issues with Clerk Pat Frank’s office.”

Those issues include: vendors not being paid on time; invoices sent to the wrong department; items deducted from the incorrect account, and several more violations. The PTC discovered the Clerk’s office was about to pay $180,000 for an $18,000 vehicle.

The PTC regulates tow trucks, limos, and taxis. It’s been in the news frequently in the past two years as it attempts to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

PTC executive director Kyle Cockream told WTSP the problem has been going on for at least three years. That’s why Cockream says he is pulling the agency’s million-dollar account from the clerk and hiring a private bank to take over the duties. “I felt compelled to protect and be accountable and fiscally accountable for the money I deal with,” added Cockream.

“At the end of the day, I’m a pretty simple guy,” Cockream told WTSP’s Mike Deeson. “I know one plus one equals two and the balance sheet should show two, not five, not zero; I know that. But the balance sheet has been showing something other than two.”

According to Deeson, it’s not just the PTC that has accounting problems with the clerk’s office. Another audit of county finances found millions of dollars in accounting discrepancies including: At the start of the audit process, reconciled variances between the general ledger and supporting sub-ledger and/or module totaling over $20 million for the water enterprise fund, and over $40 million for general government capital assets were observed.

The timing of the story couldn’t be worse for Frank, who has run the clerk’s office since 2004. She faces Kevin Beckner in the Democratic Primary taking place Aug. 30.

Frank gave this statement to WTSP:

“I am very pro­­ud of the work the Clerk’s Office has done for the Public Transportation Commission for more than 30 years. We have worked closely with the PTC staff as they have struggled to adapt to a new computerized accounting system that was adopted by the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the Clerk’s Office in August 2013. The agency has acknowledged to auditors that it has failed to adapt to the new technology, which includes not entering information correctly.

The 2014 and 2015 audits found material weaknesses in internal controls and placed the responsibility squarely on the staff of the PTC. Instead of following the audits’ recommendations to hire someone to “monitor the financial reporting process,” the PTC now seeks to privatize its services and shift blame to my office. That is unacceptable.

As for the accusations regarding vendor payments, we pay any approved invoices within an average of three to five days. The timely processing of invoices depends on the Clerk’s Office having the necessary documentation to justify the expenditure. As the steward of public funds, we take this responsibility seriously. Mistakes happen and we will take responsibility when they are ours.

It is disappointing that the Public Transportation Commission staff has failed to communicate directly with me or my staff that it plans to end our long-term relationship.”

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, Beckner said,”The PTC removing public funds because of their loss of confidence in the accounting procedures by our clerk is another example in a long laundry list of mismanagement issues and failures of Pat Frank. Hillsborough taxpayers deserve a clerk who will show up to work and be a good steward of their tax dollars.

“I will bring accountability and transparency to the Clerk’s Office,” he added. “Having millions in unaccounted-for public money while passing the blame onto others is exactly why Pat Frank doesn’t deserve to be rehired.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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