Updated at 3:20 p.m. to include comment from former Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway.
Some outgoing council members left Dallas City Hall on June 23 owing the city hundreds of dollars. Some left with with City Hall-bought electronics and furniture the council members purchased for pennies on the dollars. And some left without turning in their city-issued ID badges and parking decals.
Long story short, says a special audit released this morning: “The City continues to have difficulties consistently following appropriate procedures,” writes City Auditor Craig Kinton in the document below. “As a result, certain City policies and procedures were not always follows, outstanding debts were owed to the City, and compliance exceptions reported in prior Special Audits still exist.”
According to Kinton’s audit, half of the outgoing council members left office without settling their debts, though two were relatively small amounts dealt with in a matter of weeks. Tennell Atkins left with a past-due water bill worth $156, which he finally paid in July. Vonciel Jones Hill was also a few weeks late paying her $58.74 water bill.
In the document released today, the city auditor — and city attorney’s office — were far more concerned with the $837.14 in personal property taxes Sheffie Kadane owed the city when he left.
When reached Monday morning, Kadane denied the audit’s accuracy.
“I don’t owe a cent,” Kadane said. “All of that’s been taken care of. I owe the city nothing.”
That is true: On Monday morning, Kinton told First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers via email that Kadane paid his taxes on Friday.
The audit also says Dwaine Caraway and others received deep discounts on some high-priced electronics and home and office furnishings when they left office.
According to the audit, Caraway walked out of city hall with $2,106 worth of “tropical green granite desktop” bought in January 2014 for the low, low price of $162.37. He also picked up a $1,750 55-inch Smart TV for $216. It was 17 months old. According to the audit, Caraway walked away with $5,751.41 worth of electronics, chairs, cabinets, tables and stools, for which he paid $906.67.
Kadane paid $1,080 for $2,895 worth of electronics, including a 2-year-old MacBook Pro and two iPads. Vonciel Jones Hill pocketed her BlackBerry for $25, while Jerry Allen left with an iPad 3; the city auditor doesn’t know much he paid for it, if anything.
The audit doesn’t say Caraway or the others did anything wrong, and instead blames city hall procedures — which Caraway says are confusing at best.
“It’s not like there’s any back and forth,” he said Monday. “You ask, ‘How much is it, let me know, because we’re coming to the end.’ And it’s up to city staff to give you the procedure, make the valuation — as they did — and tell you what your responsibilities are after that, and then you deal with it. But, look, you can pay $400 for a television at Best Buy and you can find the same television in the pawn shop — especially after it’s been used — for $50, so who knows the depreciated value of certain things?”
But Caraway, who’s running against John Wiley Price for the Dallas County Commissioners Court, said he doesn’t disagree with Kinton’s assessment of city procedures.
“I do not question the audit,” he said. “I support the audit and the auditor. He did his job, and hopefully it will set ways to address the departures of future councils.”
And while it’s understandable that council members would want to keep phones and computers loaded with personal information, there’s just one big problem, says Kinton’s audit: “There was no documentation to support how the City established the item’ value to determine the appropriate sales price. As a result City Departments did not have an opportunity to request the items, the items were not available for sale at public auction, and the City might not have obtained the best price.” Also, says Kinton, those iPads and cell phones were bought for city use. And once they were sold, “these devices were not available for city use.”
The audit says Kadane also spent $1,786 on a projector in October 2014, which he later donated to a 501(c)(3), which later gave it to the Dallas Police Department — all without the proper transfer forms.
Kinton found nothing major in the audit, just a small pile of compliance failures that add up — yet again — to a renewed call for overhauling the oversight process.
For instance, the city’s Department of Human Resources requires two weeks’ notice from outgoing city employees; that includes council members about to lose their seat at the horseshoe. Yet, somehow, HR didn’t get the council members’ termination notification forms from the mayor and council’s offices until two days after their terms expired. “As a result,” says the audit, departments with ‘off-boarding process responsibilities, such as restricting terminating employees’ access to City buildings and computer systems and processing final paychecks, did not receive timely notifications to ensure these responsibilities were fulfilled.”
It also says there’s no good way of keeping track of council members’ city-issued property, the way council members are paid when they walk out the door is “inconsistent,” and parking decals aren’t collected when they should be. (Isn’t that right, Neumann?)
The city manager’s office says it will try to do better in the future.