WINTER SPRINGS, Fla. – A state senator who calls Winter Springs his hometown was granted his request for the State of Florida to audit his City.
Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, made the request last Thursday to the Chair of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee for an Auditor General operational audit.
Committee members unanimously approved the request.
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For at least the next eight months, or as long as 18 months, state auditors will scrutinize Winter Springs City Hall, “following the funds” as the Chair called it, to see if there was mismanagement or worse.
“In the last three years, we’ve lost a city manager, we’re on our third police chief, we’ve had the resignation of the city clerk after 24 years,” Brodeur told the Committee. “We’re on our third finance director, third parks director, third public works director, our fourth community development director, our fourth city engineer.”
Brodeur said the “scope of the audit, at a minimum,” should include:
- Compliance with Florida law and the city’s policies relating to wastewater disposal and environmental protection, and testing of documentation for such operations as deemed appropriate
- Compliance with Florida law and the city’s policies relating to third-party contracting, specifically relating to contracts for wastewater disposal, environmental protection, and marketing, and testing of documentation for such contracts as deemed appropriate
- Compliance with Florida law and the city’s policies relating to the 2017 Central Florida Water Initiative, specifically compliance with state law regarding Consumptive Use Permits, and testing of documentation for such permitting as deemed appropriate
- Compliance with Florida law and the city’s policies relating to public records requests, and testing of documentation for such requests as deemed appropriate
- Review of the city’s internal controls over wastewater disposal, environmental protection, and third-party contracting, and testing as deemed appropriate
- An evaluation of city’s ethics and fraud policies and the city’s code of conduct
Read Brodeur’s full audit request here:
“I can’t do it because it’s too personal,” Brodeur said. “So just have somebody go in and ask. Because my residents would like clean water, clean wastewater and to stop all the sniping back and forth.”
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Brodeur gave the auditing committee nearly 300 pages that he said came from residents claiming “rampant mismanagement and even malfeasance which is harming the 38,000 plus residents of the city” by the city commission, mayor, and city manager largely over the upgrading of the city’s aging water and wastewater facilities.
News 6 reported last year on a sewage spill into a city retention pond that left dead fish on the surface and shoreline of the pond.
In response, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a “consent order” to the city.
“That created a crisis around whether there was safe enough water and what we were doing to it,” Brodeur said. “That led to the city, even though it had a marketing manager, hiring a company for $200,000 to tell the residents was everything okay, despite the fact that there were bids that came in for $45,000 and $75,000.”
According to Brodeur’s audit request:
- DEP staff performed a complaint inspection regarding such on Jan. 6, 2021, followed by a compliance evaluation inspection on Jan. 12, 2021, which noted 16 violations. In addition, two reconnaissance inspections were conducted on Jan. 28 and Feb. 11, 2021, in which two and five additional violations were noted, respectively.
- The DEP ordered the city to comply with specified corrective actions within stated time periods, including paying $150,417.6517 to the DEP in settlement of the regulatory matters addressed in the Consent Order.
- The city was provided two options it could elect in lieu of making a cash payment for the civil penalties of $149,417.65: (1) implementing a Pollution Prevention (P2) Project; or (2) implementing an in-kind penalty project with a value of 11/2 times the civil penalty (or at least $224,126.47), which must be either an environmental enhancement, environmental restoration, or a capital/facility improvement project and could not be a corrective action requirement of the Consent Order or otherwise required by law. The City was required to obtain DEP’s approval for either project option it chose.
- The city proposed an in-kind project in lieu of paying the civil penalty.
“And so all I would like is for the committee’s permission to have a third-party independent adult look at what are we doing,” Brodeur said. “Are the contracts kosher.”
Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann was at the Tallahassee meeting last week and spoke to the committee.
“I am discouraged in a number of ways,” McCann said. “Bringing this to light without allowing us to simply answer your questions and doing this 18-month thing that’s going to be released just before the next election.”
McCann said the audit is a “pure weaponizing of this committee.”
Committee Chair Sen. Jason Pizzo responded to McCann.
“Mayor, let me tell you this, I was a homicide prosecutor,” Pizzo said. “I used to go after people who shot and killed kids. Okay. If somebody’s screwing with you individually, if this is a vendetta, we’re going to find out.”
Newly-elected City Commissioner Victoria Colangelo won her seat last year, in part, by giving a voice to the residents criticizing the city’s management for years.
“I think this will be good for our city because we’ll provide closure, because we’ll know if this is really an issue,” Colangelo said. “I was told by numerous people that there were issues and I dove into them as much as possible, but this audit will provide some answers.”
At Monday night’s city commission meeting, Mayor McCann referenced the “infighting” and told the audience “we need to lower this temperature.”
“I’ll be honest with you, I felt the vast majority of stuff was absolutely untrue,” McCann said at Monday night’s commission meeting. “He [Chairman Pizzo] said I will give you a fair shake straight up. And I’m starting to be optimistic about this. I’m starting to think let’s bring it, all these things about our water, let’s do the comparisons.”
McCann and City Manager Shawn Boyle said a statement to News 6 Monday afternoon:
“The city has a great deal of respect for the difficult task that legislators have with managing public expectations in the third largest State in the Country. The city also has a great deal of confidence in Honorable Senator Jason Pizzo to conduct a fair and unbiased review of the facts that will be presented.”
“The state audit is primarily focused on drinking water and our sewer Infrastructure. The city is excited that these topics will be reviewed by the state and we are very confident the audit will affirm the position of the city; Winter Springs drinking water is safe and in compliance with all safe drinking water standards. It will also affirm the city’s decision, which began two years ago, to replace both its sewer plants was in fact the correct strategic plan.”
“It is the city’s goal that this will provide a final and definitive confirmation demonstrating the city has been acting in the best interest of its residents.”
Brodeur told News 6 the audit request is “in response to growing concerns that have been expressed by many of my constituents living in Winter Springs.”
“You can see in the staff analysis the entire list of concerns, but this really boils down to a lack of trust in the city leadership and senior staff,” Brodeur said. “From documented mismanagement of the city’s water and wastewater operations to alleged ethics violations, the citizens of Winter Springs are concerned that the people in charge of the daily operations of their city are not working as effectively and as efficiently as they should.”
Brodeur explained the process for an operational audit:
“A member of the legislature requests the chair of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee to direct the Auditor General of Florida to conduct an operational audit of the entity in question. The committee then considers the request after the legislator presents the overall issue and reasoning for the request to the committee members at the meeting. The committee then votes whether or not to direct the Auditor General to proceed with conducting the audit.”
“The length of the process depends on the scope of the audit request and the complexity of the issues that the Auditor General finds, but generally the audits can take anywhere from 8-18 months. After the audit is completed, the Auditor General presents the preliminary findings to the entity for a response. The Auditor General then presents the finalized report to the committee for review and the entity is allowed to respond to the report officially. The Auditor General will then conduct a follow-up check-in with the entity to see if they have made any corrective actions in relation to the findings in the audit report.”
Brodeur said the audit is now in the hands of the Auditor General who he “will be working closely with as she and her staff work on the audit.”
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