Release: Rec & Parks Requires Equity Strategy; Focus on Repeat Audit Findings

Crest of the City of Baltimore

Bill Henry
Comptroller,
Baltimore City
204 City Hall - Baltimore Maryland 21202
(410) 396-5410

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT
Geoff Shannon, Public Relations Officer
(410) 387-5704

geoff.shannon@baltimorecity.gov

 

Baltimore, MD - The Department of Audits (DOA) has released the Biennial Performance Audit for Baltimore City Recreation & Parks (BCRP), covering the fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

DOA sought to determine how BCRP prioritizes park maintenance projects, whether funds are equitably distributed and whether prior audit findings were addressed. In total, the report had three new findings and four prior findings. City Auditor Josh Pasch presented the report at the December 21 Board of Estimates meeting.

The report is summarized below Comptroller Bill Henry’s statement:

“While today’s audit focused on one City agency, it raises a larger issue that both the Mayor and the City Council must consider, relating to implementation of Baltimore’s 2018 Equity Assessment Ordinance.

When Baltimore became the first City to use 3-1-1, the system proved revolutionary, and tremendously effective at increasing community engagement.  To that point, over the last two decades, we’ve all gotten used to telling folks to call 3-1-1 to report issues. Intentional or not, we’ve enabled a policy where ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ However, demographic groups don’t all utilize 3-1-1 equally. For instance, historically disinvested neighborhoods and immigrant communities are less likely to report problems with City services, while areas with more white residents and more homeowners tend to overreport such issues. Given over 20 years of data to work with, in addition to this audit, we need to acknowledge that an exclusive 3-1-1 approach results in inequitable delivery of services.

The alternative process for service delivery is compliance with Baltimore’s Equity law, but examining the dichotomy between a 3-1-1 approach and the approach now outlined in code reveals an inharmonious set of strategies. In the course of this performance audit of BCRP, and in discussions with other agencies, a common response to recommendations to improve compliance with the equity law is that agencies need additional funding to do so.  Apparently, many in our agencies think that equity means addressing the historically disadvantaged by providing additional services on top of the services they already provide to people who use 3-1-1. This demonstrates a widespread, fundamental misunderstanding of the equity law, the point of which is to mandate that agencies allocate existing resources to benefit communities that historically have been deprived of public investment, regardless of 3-1-1 data.

We also need to acknowledge that in this particular case, a biennial performance audit cannot capture an agency’s performance in anything approximating real time. More timely evaluation and even more meaningful accountability on this topic would be best reached through regular oversight hearings before the City Council, where agencies must report their recent progress in an open and transparent public setting. Only through the Mayor and the City Council, working together, will we succeed in evolving the culture of local government and find a way of appropriating resources equitably, while maintaining the level of community engagement achieved through robust 3-1-1 participation.”

2022 Report

  • Finding: BCRP is not fully compliant with the City’s equity assessment program for both operational budget and capital budget. 
  • Effect: Without an effective evaluation of how funds are being allocated, it is less likely that BCRP will achieve the goal to effectively identify and redress disparate outcomes on the basis of race, gender, or income.
  • Finding: BCRP requires a new inspection system for park maintenance. There is no minimum threshold for park inspections or methodology for which parks get chosen for inspection. 
  • Effect: This could have multiple effects, including parks that tend to not have as many issues not having the attention of park managers, which could lead to issues going unnoticed and or addressed or inequitable distribution of park managers’ time.
  • Finding: Found that capital project data is kept in an unprotected Excel file that is accessible by as many as 30 staff members. 
  • Effect: Because of that open access, important capital projects information is susceptible to intentional or unintentional data loss.

DOA made recommendations to BCRP for each audit finding. Audits advised BCRP to incorporate equity assessments in its capital budget process, create a methodology and documentation system for how BCRP inspects its parks, and implement a data security policy that restricts access to capital projects data and other important information to authorized users.

BCRP agreed with Audits’ findings and recommendations and has presented a series of action plans to the BOE.

Prior Findings

The Department of Audits reviewed the six prior audit findings and found one was fully implemented, one was partially implemented, and four were not implemented. The findings awaiting implementation are listed below:

  • Finding: Aquatics (BCRP) did not obtain annual operating permits for public pools for FY21, FY20, FY19 and FY2018.
  • Effect: In Summer 2021, five pools operated without permits. In Summer 2022, three indoor pools operated without permits. The permits are required prior to opening by State code.
  • Finding: Aquatics (BCRP) overstated actual results for FY2019 and FY2018 reported in the Budget Books due to a calculation methodology for percentage of pools meeting maintenance standards.
  • Effect: Inside the Budget book, the percentage of pools meeting maintenance standards is inflated. The incorrect performance measure information is misleading for the City leadership to make appropriate funding decisions, which may result in inadequate pool maintenance.
  • Finding: Urban Forestry (BCRP) does not have policies and procedures to ascertain whether service requests and work orders are closed within established service level agreements (SLA) or to accurately report the actual results in the budget books. In addition, BCRP does not monitor the Service Requests (SR) and Work Orders (WO), causing the overstatement of FY2019 and FY2018 actual results and the existence of significant open work orders.
  • Effect: The existence of significant work orders, in situation severity or in length of time opened, can lead to potentially dangerous situations with street and park trees that require urgent maintenance.

In 2020, BCRP accepted the above findings and agreed to implement the recommendations.

  • Finding: The BCRP did not keep a property inventory form on various locations resulting in the facilities not maintaining records of its inventory and / or unable to provide a dollar value of its inventory.
  • Effect: A lack of recording inventory prevents management from having an accurate accounting of inventories from BCRP's locations and increases the risk of loss, theft or unauthorized use without being detected in a timely manner

In 2018, BCRP accepted the above findings and agreed to implement the recommendations.

The BCRP Biennial Performance Audit is available at the Comptroller’s website.

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