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Auditors find holes in Renew Atlanta road repaving oversight

Lynhurst Drive in southwest Atlanta, pictured in September with new paving, sidewalks, lights and more, in part with Renew Atlanta Bond money. Credit: Maggie Lee Lynhurst Drive, shown in a November, 2017 file photo when closed for a ceremony, has "complete street" upgrades: wide sidewalks, new lights and benches and maybe enough space to ride a bike, paid for in part with Renew Atlanta money. Credit: Maggie Lee

By Maggie Lee

Auditors found that the folks who are supposed to be overseeing Renew Atlanta projects often have incomplete or incorrect information — and that there’s not an electronic system to keep documents in order.

Lyndhurst Drive in southwest Atlanta, pictured in September with new paving, sidewalks, lights and more, in part with Renew Atlanta Bond money. Credit: Maggie Lee

Lynhurst Drive in southwest Atlanta, pictured while closed for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in September, got new paving, sidewalks, lights and more, in part with Renew Atlanta money. Credit: Maggie Lee

The city says there are reasons why: like works that got started before controls were in place, and the abandonment of one electronic document management system before another was ready.

“[T]he Project Control Board should have up-to-date information on the money budgeted and spent under the Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond. Fifty-six out of 84 streets, however, lack the required documentary approval of baselines, making control of project and program level budgets and schedules more difficult,” reads part of the 35-page performance report.

Auditors reviewed a sample of road resurfacing projects from July 2015 through January 2017 undertaken as part of the $250 million Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond. Atlanta voters approved that spend in 2015 to pay for a backlog of works like bridge, road and sidewalk repair.

The “Project Control Board” — a group within the city — is supposed to approve a “Project Implementation Plan” for works that shows a baseline budget and schedule. They’re also supposed to approve big variances to contracts. And ideally, there would be an electronic document management system for everyone to use.

But auditors found examples of shortcomings in those and several other areas. Those shortcomings represent risk that something could go awry: too much money spent, not enough money set aside or documents lost.

Renew Atlanta’s written response says that in order to get works going “as expediently as demanded” some existing resurfacing contracts were used and at the onset of the program there were no procedures established yet and projects were required to be built without necessary controls in place.

“Upon implementing the controls, it was difficult to go backwards to ensure compliance with those procedures. For projects that were managed and/or implemented by others, this proved even more challenging,” reads part of Renew Atlanta’s response.

Auditors wrote that projects that came earlier are still supposed to get retroactive approval by the board. They recommended that projects that never got such approval be presented to the board.

And auditors noted a handful of streets where they could find no purchase order or written notice to proceed with work.

“The contractor state that city managers issued verbal notices to proceed in the field,” auditors wrote.

Asked for comment, a city spokeswoman provided a two-page memo that summarizes Renew Atlanta’s response to the audit. There are also official responses within the 35-page audit. Renew Atlanta says that its controls are dynamic and they are constantly working to improve their processes and procedures.

Auditors called attention to works in the Guilford Forest subdivision in southwest Atlanta, home of Mayor Kasim Reed, as well as nearby Regency Park and other nearby streets.

In one case, the Project Control Board approved works on 10 total streets, eight in Regency Park and two nearby, according to auditors. And the works were split into two groups.  But only one group subsequently had money marked for it in city computers, so insufficient funds were available to pay for the works. The city has only paid for works on six of the 10 streets, auditors said.

Guildford Forest didn’t go before the board, the auditors wrote. In that case, the city created a purchase order and encumbered $1.4 million for the works, auditors wrote.

Asked in writing about Guilford Forest and Regency Park specifically, the city spokeswoman wrote: “Both projects were completed; the Project Control Board was presented with the information on Guilford Forest on Oct. 27, 2017.”

Other questions about Guilford Forest were answered “see the document attached [the memo]” or “see above,” the Oct. 27 comment.

Auditors did find that in some ways, Renew Atlanta has good controls in place. For example, field inspectors’ reports that are subject to multiple layers of review.

“Renew Atlanta has multi-layered internal and external governance, including its Project Control Board, City Council, Internal Audit, the Infrastructure Stakeholder Committee – a public committee appointed by Council, the Department of Finance and the ACP [Atlanta Committee for Progress] Infrastructure Task Force,” the city spokeswoman wrote.

She also said that Renew Atlanta and auditors are scheduled to present the audit to City Council’s Transportation Committee on Nov. 29.

Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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