The saga of the many-years-long impact fee underestimation problem(which we’ve covered before), that Mayor Bill Foster seems to be working hard to try to sweep under the rug by doing yet another incomplete internal-only audit, popped up again today. There is a great editorial by Jim Morin appearing in the Tampa Bay Times that does a wonderful job of condensing what is going on into a few short paragraphs, we would highly suggest that you take a few minutes to read it, but here’s a summary if you can’t wait: Mayor Foster(and a few council members) seem to have amnesia about the external audit that was voted for by council a few months ago(sadly similar to City employee Don Tyre’s amnesia of who ordered him to reduce the impact fees so drastically, causing this issue to come out in the first place), and ended up reversing course and voting to wait for an internal audit to be done first.
Another thing that has changed apparently was how much the external audit would have cost. Mayor Foster said back in January that it should “cost about $25,000”, yet months later, audit-opponent and Foster-ally Councilman Dudley is saying “$50,000”, and the number “$40,000” was mentioned in the workshop. Now we know that Foster “went to school to be a lawyer, not a mathematician“, but this kind of math error is ridiculous, even for a lawyer.
One issue we didn’t see raised in today’s editorial is that back on March 29th, Councilman Nurse said “we’re two weeks away from the internal audit”, if that is true, where is it? It’s been over 3 weeks, meaning it’s been over a week since it was supposed to be completed, and we haven’t heard a peep about the internal audit report.
So here are the questions we still have no answers for:
Why are the Mayor and certain city council members now so afraid of what an external audit will show?
What happened between the time the council voted for an external audit and last month’s workshop to change their minds?
How much would an external audit really cost?
Where is the internal audit report that was supposed to be finished over a week ago?
The end result of all of this posturing and flip flopping on an external audit is the continued erosion of the public trust in St Petersburg City government. The fact that all of the above questions remain unanswered means that our government is not being transparent and open. Hopefully the voters of St Petersburg will remember this sad episode when these city officials are up for reelection next year.
As a final note, we would like to applaud Councilman Steve Kornell for his integrity and perseverance in pushing for this audit for the last several months, and not trying to sweep this under the rug like several others in city government seem to be trying to do.