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Hometown News
March 4, 2010

Audit prompts city reorganization

By Jay Meisel

FORT PIERCE - Weeks after an audit raised concerns about corruption, Fort Pierce this week reorganized the community services division and eliminated the jobs of three employees who were on administrative leave.

As a result of the reorganization that took effect on March 1, Jon Ward, director of the Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency, will be in charge of programs previously provided by the community services division.

Those programs include hurricane housing recovery, weatherization, community development block grant house rehabilitation assistance and a state funded program that helps people with low incomes to find housing.

"I have total and complete confidence in Mr. Ward's leadership and ability to effectively administer both existing and future program dollars," city manager David Recor said in a press release.

The reorganization is the result of a highly critical audit of the community services division that was conducted by Kessler International, headquartered in New York City. The audit stated that money often went to city employees, their relatives and friends.

Moreover, the audit questioned whether city employees solicited kickbacks from companies bidding on housing projects, questioned whether some funds were given to ineligible people and noted errors in documents.

The Inspector General's Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating whether criminal activity occurred.

As a result of the reorganization prompted by the audit, city officials said, the city eliminated the positions of the three employees placed on administrative leave after the financial review was conducted. Those three were positions were the assistant director of community services and two rehabilitation specialists.

A program specialist will retain their job.

Rehabilitation specialist responsibilities will be given to the city's building department, city officials said in the press release.

The city will also have a fiscal officer who will internally monitor and evaluate the handling by funds by the FPRA.

Mr. Ward and Matthew G. Margotta, director of community development, will coordinate the transition from the existing organization.

Mr. Ward will receive no salary increase and the increase in his duties comes at a time when the FPRA is moving toward maintaining existing projects, rather than adding new ones, the press release said.

Mr. Margotta will also resume his role as city planner, the press release said.

The focus of all that is make sure that money gets to people who are most in need, Mr. Recor said in the press release.

The reorganization should result in some savings to the city, but an exact figure was unavailable last week, said Anne Satterlee, communications and marketing manager.

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