JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Most people can log into their bank account and know exactly how much money they have, but an Action News Jax investigation found the City of Jacksonville couldn’t do that for the past two years.
The city implemented a new software system to balance its books. The transition hasn’t been a smooth one; they usually aren’t.
Our investigation found the transition created a breakdown in how the city accounts for billions of dollars, which led to delaying COVID relief funds, breaking the city charter and possibly violating state statutes.
At a time when people were fighting for their businesses, their homes or their lives because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city sat on $8,069,919.30 in federal relief funding for months.
It wasn’t delayed because the city didn’t want to dole out the money; rather, it was delayed because the city had no idea the money was in its account. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
The problem extends to more than $4 billion in city funds, according to the city’s own audit from March 2022. That adds up to almost half of the city’s bank transactions.
It took an average of almost four months for the bank reconciliations to show up properly in its system. According to the audit, the new financial software caused the breakdown.
We requested an interview with the City of Jacksonville’s Chief Financial Officer Patrick “Joey” Greive eight times.
But it wasn’t until we chased him down at the City Council finance committee meeting that he finally agreed to talk about the problem.
“We converted our new system in March of 2020. And immediately, 16 days later, were hit with the most massive pandemic. It was very disruptive,” said Greive.
The pandemic was especially “disruptive” to the city’s ledgers. It caused a domino effect that prevented city agencies from submitting financial reports and caused them to miss the state deadline for its annual audit by nine months, which is a violation of the city charter.
Florida state statute requires accounting practices to assure the use of proper accounting and fiscal management. These audit reports show that’s not happening. So we asked, “Is the City of Jacksonville breaking the law?”
“Your characterization that it’s not happening is absolutely false... We are following the law,” said Greive. He went on to say that every dollar from the 2020 audit is accounted for and that the city’s books are almost balanced. Greive said June’s books were completed last week.
We talked to three separate experts — all accountants, all well-versed in audits.
One couldn’t go on camera because of his top-secret clearance. The second one was Steven Bankler, who investigated the Whitewater scandal. The third one was Geoffrey Adams, who teaches accounting at Florida State University and specializes in auditing information systems like the one the city uses.
All three agree, the audits findings are, at best, cause for concern.
“Well, the whole system needs work,” said Bankler. “It shows that they have inherent deficiencies.”
Adams said, “It’s pretty critical that you’re able to reconcile your accounts, because otherwise, how do you know what you have, right?” He added, “Anybody who’s paid sales tax within the boundaries of Jacksonville is now a stakeholder. And they are supposed to get adequate, accurate, transparent reports that show how the city has funded its operations and, ultimately, what those operations cost.”
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