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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 1 week ago

Ocoee commissioner pushes for audit

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Commissioner George Oliver III is requesting city leaders take action with an independent audit to determine Ocoee’s financial and operational health.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

An independent audit for the city of Ocoee is at the forefront of Commissioner George Oliver III’s radar.

Oliver held a press conference prior to the Ocoee commission meeting Tuesday, Oct. 1, informing residents of his continued push for an audit to learn more about the financial and operational health of the city.

“We the community, and several of my constituents, are … determined to demand that the city do something that they’ve never done before, and that is to conduct an independent audit to inform and empower and substantiate the financial and operational health of the city of Ocoee,” Oliver said. “You know this as well as I know: A system without checks and balances — an otherwise incorruptible people or systems — can become corrupt. The over 50,000 residents of Ocoee deserve and have the right to know whether we have the available funds to build for the future generations of Ocoee, and if the results are not favorable, then I say it’s time to move change.”

With the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget having just been adopted Sept. 25, Oliver’s stance on the city’s current financial health is that it cannot be substantiated until an audit is conducted to provide such evidence.

“This audit is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “Most people look at it as something really bad — it’s not. I’m calling for an audit that we can know the financial health and the operational readiness of our city, because we’ve never done it before. When you’re spending taxpayers’ dollars … there should be some accountability. Audits will allow us to … know that we’re operating in a manner that is conducive to a healthy city.”

During the regular commission meeting following Oliver’s press conference, he brought forth a motion to earmark $100,000 from reserves to conduct the independent audit, including risk assessment and both financial and operational assessments. It would not include fire and police, he said, because they already are audited. 

Commissioner Larry Brinson seconded the motion, but Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen expressed her concerns with the motion to use $100,000 for an audit when there are projects the city is still working on. Wilsen began by saying she understood Oliver’s position but she wants the commission to first finish what it started.

“I have roads to be paved, I have sidewalks to be cleaned up, I feel that we all have a responsibility to finishing what came out of the strategic planning session,” she said.

“And from that initial strategic planning we did many years ago we put together that our residents wanted a park. I never saw so many residents at one time in one of our buildings saying what they wanted, and what they want is this park. (I’m) not saying that an audit is not important, but at this time I feel as a steward of funds that I have a responsibility to make sure that this park is completed. … We need dollars to spend, and personally I want to put that money into this community before we can take on any other jobs.”

Before turning the conversation back over to Oliver, Mayor Rusty Johnson read a statement expressing his stance on Oliver’s push for an audit. Johnson said that although Oliver was not at the Sept. 25 budget hearing due to being on vacation, he ensured that Oliver’s request was made clear to the commission. However, he said, there was no discussion about it and no motion was made.

“It is extremely unfortunate when one of our own does not respect the legislative process,” Johnson said. “The truth is, the audits were brought up during the first budget public hearing, but no one, including Commissioner Oliver, made a motion. This after … discussion from the commissioners about using strategic planning to determine goals that could result in an operational audit in the future. The city already conducts an annual financial audit. … That financial audit every year goes through here, and it is checked by the state. We are probably better off than most other cities anywhere around all of the counties in this area.

“Police, fire and development services have all undergone intense scrutiny and transformations in recent years,” Johnson said. “It is inappropriate for Commissioner Oliver to insinuate that the commission is anything but an organization that is transparent and of the highest integrity.”

Oliver followed up by saying the city of Ocoee only has had internal audits done, never an external audit. Although his motion failed by a vote of 3-2 — only he and Brinson were in favor — Oliver said an audit is not seen as a negative thing.

“This is something that can be very positive,” Oliver said. “I think it could probably shed a lot of great light on where we are. But we won’t see it unless we do it. We have to start somewhere.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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