Serving in the capacity as an interim manager can provide a unique opportunity for local government professionals. Whether the assignment is short term or leads to a long term position, it can offer you an opportunity to explore new and unique challenges during periods of smooth or rough transitions, the prior of course is preferable. Such is the ongoing situation in the Town of Pembroke Park, Florida, where the underlying principles of government transparency, accountability, and professional responsibility were in large part ignored and ultimately drawn into question.
Following a multi-year investigation by the Office of the Inspector General in Broward County, the OIG released a preliminary report in December 2017 and a final report in February 2018 charging the Town with official misconduct and gross mismanagement in the procurement of professional engineering services. The OIG determined that for 16 years the former town manager, who resigned on January 3, 2018, and two other top administrative officials engaged in gross mismanagement, misconduct, or both, in the procurement of engineering services from a private firm, the Town’s interim engineer, consulting engineering firm, and for twelve years its lobbyist or grant specialist. In the end, the Town Manager, Finance and Budget Director, Assistant Town Manager and several other employees left employment with the Town creating a large void in the administration and finance departments. To date, there are no less than 16 full-time vacancies in an organization with 36 full-time authorized positions (two positions are newly created to address OIG recommendations).
In the wake of the OIG report, the Town Commission took immediate corrective action to begin addressing the numerous findings, conclusions and recommendations. Their first order of business, retain outside consultants to assist in unraveling the significant mismanagement issues. In March 2018, a consultant was retained to prepare an organizational analysis to restructure the organization and to fully clarify the roles of both elected commissioners and appointed officials based on the OIG’s recommendations. Next step up, this consultant prepared a Job Classification and Compensation Plan in July 2018 to address the identified gross overpayment of employee salaries totaling $992,004 in FY2018 (Town Manager’s salary alone was $327,413).
I joined the effort at the end of July and the first order of business was to prepare the FY 2019 budget. Not surprisingly, the FY 18 adopted budget was terribly lacking and merely provided two columns; current year and requested budget. Starting from scratch I worked with staff to create a fully transparent budget document that provides meaningful fiscal data that allowed the Town Commission to fully understand the financial history and condition of the Town. Most significantly, after all positions were properly funded for FY 2019 the net reduction in gross salaries saved the taxpayers $586,493, not including benefit cost reduction savings. Unfortunately, the Town’s general fund unassigned reserve suffered losses between 2008 and 2017 following seven years of inflated budget revenues and salaries, coupled with deficit spending. In FY 2019, a surplus budget is designed to begin rebuilding this reserve back from $2.68 M to $5.62 M; a shortfall of over $2.93 M in today’s dollars.
Wrapping up, current projects underway include completing the FY 2017 annual audit that is rife with its own set of challenges. The newly appointed Town Auditors for FY 2016 reported one material weakness, one significant deficiency, and eight other internal control weaknesses. Other projects required to address the OIG report include a Purchasing Manual, Finance and Accounting Manual, Personnel Manual, Records Management Manual, and Commission Procedural Manual, all of which are either underway or in draft form today.
Transparency, Accountability, and Professional Responsibility are the hallmarks of our profession! As appointed public servants entrusted to serve local governments at the top of the management ladder, we all have a duty and responsibility to respect the ICMA and FCCMA Code of Ethics in the exercise of our day-to-day professional lives. Unfortunately, that was not the case in the Town of Pembroke Park where the financial ramifications created by misconduct and gross mismanagement will have a long and chilling effect on the organization, the employees, local citizens and the business community. As an interim manager, your knowledge and skills are an invaluable asset to a local government that enters a period of management transition. Accept the challenge and enjoy the opportunity, it is both personally rewarding and promotes our profession.
Interim Town Manager, Town of Pembroke Park, Florida
3150 S.W. 52nd Avenue
Pembroke Park, Florida 33023