City recreation centers that scored the worst on their inventory:
• Westside Center -- 60 percent of equipment missing
• Watkins St. Center -- 48.6 percent missing
• Eastdale Center -- 42.2 percent missing
• Washington Hills Center -- 40 percent missing
• South Chattanooga Center -- 37.8 percent missing
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As city officials mull Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's $212 million budget, one councilman grilled the administration about a city audit that revealed that nearly 30 percent of equipment such as flat-screen televisions, laptops and video game consoles were missing from the city's recreation centers.
City Auditor Stan Sewell conducted an informal audit at the city's 17 recreational centers last week and discovered that $38,600 worth of equipment bought between January 2011 and May 2013 couldn't be found.
The study also showed that several staff members were failing to document minor equipment purchases, violating state law, and at least one rec center was so poorly documented that its staff couldn't account for 60 percent of its equipment.
The audit was requested by City Councilman Larry Grohn.
In light of the results, Grohn asked how the council could approve money requested by Berke to turn recreation centers into learning hubs.
"If we're going to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars into those rec centers I want to make sure we don't have this problem again," Grohn said at Tuesday's four-hour budget session.
Berke's staff said they identified the mismanagement in June after inheriting the problem from the previous administration.
Youth and Family Department Director Lurone Jennings said staff are now accountable for every piece of equipment at the rec centers and the city will require quarterly audits. If inventory can't be accounted for, staff members will be disciplined, he said.
"The person that is in that building should be held responsible for everything that comes and goes. That's my expectation," he said. "That's what it should have been."
Recreation centers were among several questions the council had for Berke's staff as the city gets ready to approve the 2014 proposed budget.
But at least three city officials said they won't be ready to approve the budget until they see more money funneled into road paving, blaming low funding for the poor condition of Chattanooga's roads.
"I adamantly believe roads are a primary concern," said Councilman Ken Smith. "There is not a day that goes by I don't hear from half a dozen people. It's roads, roads, roads."
This week the council will work with Berke's staff to negotiate for more than the allotted $1.7 million capital funding for paving. Officials will return next week for another budget session before deciding whether to bring the budget for a first reading at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
In 2009, the city's office of internal audit conducted an audit on the how the city was tracking its sensitive equipment, which includes items that are not expensive but are easily stolen, such as electronics.
At the time the city's Finance Department changed city policy requiring departments to do an annual audit every January on all inventory.
But last week's informal audit on recreation centers found that the records weren't properly maintained for the past three years and found 345 items from computers to cameras to game consoles couldn't be accounted for.
The worst recreation centers included:
• Westwide Center where flat-screen TVs, speakers, microwaves, pingpong tables and even a piano were missing or broken.
• And the Watkins Street Center, where nearly 50 percent of the equipment was gone or broken including three laptops, four Nintendo Wii's and three PlayStation 3 consoles.
The audit recommended that the department use extreme diligence in administering inventory polices and procedures.
Jennings said such problems won't happen again. He said he has reassigned staff and is still evaluating where he can make changes to assure that the recreational centers are held accountable.
Berke's staff said the administration is also examining how to better monitor inventory citywide, holding departments more accountable for thousands of dollars in equipment.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...