Firm to examine Pittsburgh's cash flow

Oversight board hires accountants

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Part of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority's job is to look after the city of Pittsburgh's books.

So Dana Yealy, chair of the authority's board, was deeply troubled at the news that ousted police Chief Nate Harper was federally charged with instructing bureau employees to direct payments to the bureau to an unauthorized bank account.

"I have a lack of confidence that we have our hands around all the potential weaknesses around fees," Mr. Yealy said.

The board on Wednesday voted to spend $90,000 on forensic accounting firm Gleason and Associates to examine how the city handles cash. The board voted unanimously for the measure. Because the job falls under the category of a professional service, it did not need to be put out to bid, Mr. Yealy said.

According to the indictment against Mr. Harper, funds were taken from the Special Events Office, which handles payments from businesses who employ police officers as security guards. The funds went to the unauthorized account, where they were tapped by the chief for meals, electronics and gifts to the tune of around $30,000, according to the indictment. Neither city Controller Michael Lamb nor the city's central finance office compared records of what was due to the city to what was being deposited in the city's coffers, allowing the scheme to operate unnoticed for years.

Mr. Yealy said he wants Gleason and Associates to determine how cash moves into the city, whether it be from swimmers paying for pool permits or businesses paying to hire police officers. He wants to make sure all the procedures are "as sound as possible."

City council recently passed legislation to do much the same thing. The resolution sponsored by council President Darlene Harris directs the city controller to examine cash management policies. It also allocates $20,000 to spend on an outside consultant to development a citywide policy. ICA officials said the two groups will work together on the issue.

But a solution may come sooner as city performance manager Chuck Half works to implement a pair of programs to better track cash payments to the city for permits and fees in a number of departments. In a presentation to the board, Mr. Half said those programs will be ready for implementation in the police bureau's Special Events Office by this summer. Whether the bureau will use the program is up to city officials.

Mr. Half said that the Accela Automation System, which tracks applications, invoices and receipts, has already been implemented in the departments of zoning, building inspection and public works. When i t's integrated with the city's new accounting software, it will give city officials the ability to track when payments are received in real time.

So, for example, when a bureau or department receives a check payment for a permit, that information will be automatically entered into the city's new accounting program, allowing city officials who might be handling the deposit of the check to know that it's coming -- and to be aware when it doesn't show.

Mr. Lamb told Mr. Yealy that he believes the Accela program could fill in many of the accounting gaps that allowed the fraud to go undetected.

"It will be a much better situation than we have right now," he said. "Our whole effort on that has been focused on the [new] financial management system as a solution to a lot of problems."

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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