An internal audit of the city’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Program in 2008 found lax oversight, questionable spending and poor tracking of program funds, including city money and federal grants, records show.
“The program appears to be pursuing its stated mission,” a December 2009 report of the audit’s findings summarized. “However … there are significant issues related to (1) propriety and allowability of expenditures, (2) validity of expenditures and (3) review and authorization of expenditures.”
The News Tribune obtained a copy of the audit through a public records request after learning of its existence.
The audit also found that the DV program’s primary employee, Gloria China Fortson, had made numerous dubious expenditures, including paying off personal parking tickets, buying high school graduation announcements for a client, and submitting claims for at least three duplicate reimbursements.
“All of the overtime parking occurred within several blocks of City Hall,” said the report, even though the city already pays for a nearby parking space for Fortson.
Still, the audit found that Fortson’s expenditures – many of which lacked supporting documentation or sufficient explanation – were authorized by her supervisors.
“Management oversight is not adequate to prevent program abuses,” the report stated.
The audit’s report also noted that some spending by Fortson – specifically, for her parking tickets – appeared “unallowable” under the federal grants that sometimes covered them, and were paid in violation of city policies.
Fortson, the city’s longtime domestic violence project specialist who helped launch the city’s advocacy program in 1998, did not respond to The News Tribune’s requests for interviews.
She is now appealing a separate conduct investigation’s finding that she misused her position and city funds to help a client leave the state in violation of a court order.
Fortson previously justified paying her parking fines with city funds to a city risk analyst by saying she garnered the tickets while attending work-related court hearings.
She also has since returned at least $164 in duplicate city reimbursements paid to her that were identified during the audit.
John Briehl, director of the Department of Human Rights and Human Services and Fortson’s top supervisor, recently declined comment on Fortson’s conduct case or the audit, citing Fortson’s pending appeal.
Department officials have since taken corrective actions to the audit’s findings or are now in the process of doing so, records show. Such responses have included implementing a new performance tracking system, an improved accounting system and updated and improved policies on spending, records say.
“We have met with managers and staff and are satisfied that these actions have made a difference,” Scottie Nix, director of the city’s internal audit program, wrote to City Manager Eric Anderson in December 2009.
Nix’s letter added that auditors were “satisfied with the progress the department has made and are closing our files on this audit at this time.”
Because of time constraints, the audit “could not be executed in full” but rather sought to identify and test “certain high risk transactions” by Fortson from January 2005 through August 2008. These transactions included petty cash expenditures, travel reimbursement claims and procurement card spending.
Among other findings, the audit detected “inefficient and ineffective” use of employee time on local travel and poor use and tracking of procurement cards that led to unnecessary processing fees. Such poor oversight of the cards, used by both employees and clients, potentially allowed them to be used by people not eligible for the program’s services or to buy unauthorized items, the report said.
The audit, largely conducted over the second half of 2008, was prompted in part by the separate ethics investigation, which also raised issues about Fortson’s spending.
Among other things, that investigation found that Fortson’s spending for one client, Puyallup resident Keisha Jackson, far exceeded the program’s typical per-case spending limits of $250 to $350. It also questioned Fortson paying $175 to bail out a client jailed on a criminal traffic charge and questioned her parking ticket expenditures.
Like the audit, the ethics probe also noted that Fortson’s supervisors knew and approved of her spending.
“(It) is strongly recommended that the job duties for this position be more firmly established, and that a system of checks and balances be implemented to ensure a clear nexus between the use of city resources and valid city business,” the investigator wrote.
Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542