- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—SANTA FE — The state Auditor’s Office is requiring a legal opinion from the independent accounting firm the city of Santa Fe hires to conduct a special audit on a $30.3?million parks and trails bond to see if the city was in compliance with local, state and federal laws, regulations and policies when it executed the bond approved by taxpayers in 2008.

In addition, the firm is to include a list of all projects funded by the bond, expenditures for each project, and the types of expenditures “allowable per the governing hierarchy.”

The requirements are contained in a letter state Auditor Tim Keller sent to Santa Fe’s mayor and city councilors last week and presented to the city’s Finance Committee by Keller’s staff on Monday.

Sunalei Stewart, chief of staff for the Auditor’s office, said the legal opinion was important “to address accountability issues.”

Although an independent public accountant — selected through a competitive bid process but subject to approval by the state Auditor’s Office — will conduct the actual audit, Stewart said the state agency will “be in the driver’s seat.” He said the agency is tasked with two things: to determine if all of the $30.3 million can be accounted for, and whether the money was spent appropriately to “improve” city parks and trails.

Nine people spoke during a public hearing on the matter, including three members of the former Parks and Open Space Advisory Commission, which began raising questions about the bond spending years ago. One of them, Oralynn Guerrerortiz, echoed comments made by others that without accountability citizens will no longer support future bond questions.

City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, chairman of the Finance Committee, made critical statements about city staff, including that staff had intended all along to use the money however it wanted and began paying maintenance workers with bond funds from the beginning. He also said staff at times had been disingenuous in response to questions from councilors. In some cases, such as who was paid with bond funds, the council has been waiting two years for an answer, he said.

The state Auditor’s Office in May designated the city for a special audit of the parks and trails bond after an Albuquerque accounting firm hired by the city submitted a report that found numerous problems pertaining to how the city went about handling bond spending. Among them were that the implementation plan for 52 projects covered by the bond was never completed, changes to the scope of the work for projects were not approved by the city manager or City Council, and more than 80 percent of the 25 projects tested ran over budget.

The report by REDW LLC released in March said that although it found no evidence of fraud, “REDW cannot assert that all laws were followed.”

The city says that it has shored up its accounting procedures and that “every penny” of the bond was spent appropriately on improvements to more than 50 parks and about a dozen trails.

The state agency also laid out a timetable for the audit that has the City Council selecting the IPA in October, fieldwork being conducted in November, a final report submitted to the state Auditor’s Office on Dec. 15, and a release of the report on Jan. 15.

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(c)2015 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com

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