An internal audit of a city department that was headed by a candidate for City Council has found a range of problems characterized as things that make the public "get so angry about."
Fees weren't being collected by the Neighborhood Services Department in a timely manner, workers were inefficient and an after-hours call service didn't work, according to the audit.
But former Neighborhood Services administrator and current council candidate Sam Engel called the audit flawed.
Since Neighborhood Services is in charge of responding to quality-of-life complaints — from excessive noise to unkempt yards — members of the Audit Commission, which heard the report on Monday, urged city officials to quickly take steps to address the problems.
“I think this is really, really important,” said Audit Commissioner Rebecca Delfino at the meeting. “These are things that the public, rightly, see and they get so angry about.”
She went on to implore city officials to implement the audit's recommendations, which range from streamlining administrative work to improving employee training.
“Please work on these because it will buy a lot of goodwill for everyone if you do,” Delfino said.
During an interview Monday Engel blamed inadequate computer programs and staffing for the problems the audit found.
“Half of the management team was gone during the scope of the audit,” he said, noting that one was on maternity leave and another, who had been promoted, was never replaced.
In addition, Engel said that although he was working during the scope of the audit — which reviewed activities from July 2011 to September 2012 — he retired in August, before the auditor began interviewing employees.
Community Development Director Hassan Haghani said he was most surprised by the redundant workflow detailed in the audit. The auditor noted that employees were doing unnecessary paperwork and entering the same information into multiple filing systems.
“That's the one we're working on right away,” he said.
But Engel said the extra paperwork and redundancies were prompted by a faulty database system, which he said has cost millions of dollars yet does not work properly.
After-hours calls were also not being forwarded to a hotline manned by a city contractor, Total Communications Center, according to the report.
Haghani said the after-hours glitches have been fixed, and the city continues to work with Total Communications Center under a multi-year contract.
In addition, documents created for code enforcement cases are not maintained properly — increasing the risk of not being able to provide proof in case of litigation — and fees were not being collected in a timely manner. That could lead to loss of revenues for a division of the city that is not a profit-maker.
For example, the $94 fee stores must pay for loose shopping carts wasn't being charged, for a potential loss to city coffers of $47,000, according to the report.
Haghani said that estimate is several years old and loose shopping carts aren't the problem they once were. But Engel said officials never charged the cart fee because of an understanding with grocery stores that if they installed electronic cart containment systems, the fees would be ignored.
“It was an incentive for them,” Engel said.