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Winter Springs fires back at “unprofessional” audit

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Winter Springs leaders argued the legality of a situation Monday night that they say has already cost the city hundreds of staff hours for a county-ordered audit.The city’s mayor says that audit, a draft copy of which was released to the public, shows “we did nothing wrong.” And even city staff spoke out about the “unprofessional” way the county’s audit has been handled compared to one being conducted by the state, with more than one on the Commission saying it’s “politically motivated.” 

The Commission largely took issue with how the Seminole County Clerk of Courts Grant Maloy released the audit, which Winter Springs commissioners and staff appeared to universally agree was a preliminary report and should not have been released. That would possibly make that audit data release illegal. 

“The public or elected official that releases this information could in fact be guilty of a misdemeanor in the first degree punishable by a year in prison or a year in jail and a $1,000 fine,” Deputy Mayor Rob Elliott said. “Now, whether or not that’s what happened, I can’t say, but there are consequences for doing what was done.”

Maloy Wednesday said that he had received numerous public records requests for the audit. 

“I considered it to be a public record when it was sent out,” Maloy said Wednesday. Maloy added that “it’s a gray area” with the way that different entities involved have interpreted what constitutes a final audit, which then enters the public record. 

The state statute that Mayor Kevin McCann says he’s based the city’s position on the audit’s release is section 119.0713, particularly subsection 2(b), which states “Audit workpapers and notes related to such audit and information received, produced, or derived from an investigation are confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution until the audit or investigation is complete and the audit report becomes final or when the investigation is no longer active. An investigation is active if it is continuing with a reasonable, good faith anticipation of resolution and with reasonable dispatch.”

The audit was launched by Seminole County Commissioner Jay Zembower after he said residents had complained about how Winter Springs was spending a 1 penny sales tax intended for infrastructure repairs. In the audit report that was released publicly, which Winter Springs staff is treating as a draft, the city complied with state statutes but the report mentioned that the city spent some of the $19 million tax funds in a way that was “not the intent” of the penny sales tax, such as the purchase of police vehicles and diversion of some funds into water and sewer work. 

But the City on Friday replied to the county audit with clarifications to some of the audit’s findings, expecting a response from the county. City interim finance director Donna Bruno said the county had earlier avoided a part of the process that raised eyebrows, including “concern expressed” from a state audit official who questioned how the county handled the audit.  

“Typically what should have happened is the auditor or the inspector general should have come to me with questions for clarification of understanding, and that did not happen,” Bruno said. “I reached out to him, provided the documentation he requested, and then hadn’t heard back from them in several weeks, reached out, ‘Do you have any questions?’ What’s happening with the state audit is exactly that. The state auditor is requesting documentation and then he’s coming back and asking for clarification to make sure that his understanding is accurate, and so that he can go to either build his comments or … to be included in his report.” 

In the meantime commissioners asked City Attorney Anthony Garganese how the city could go about pursuing some recourse for the county damaging the city’s reputation. Garganese said the city will work through the process of the audit first and said he didn’t want to speculate on recourse against the county until after the audit is finished. 

“The city’s response was detailed and should be informative for the clerk to address the findings, or preliminary findings, that were made in this draft,” Garganese said. “I don’t want to speculate on what happens after this point, until the audit’s final.”

Others were more pointed, particularly Elliott, who said the release was politically motivated.  

“It is beyond me not only why it didn’t occur but beyond me as to why the entity that released the draft decided the first place it should go is the media,” Elliott said. “These laws are set in place for, in my opinion, one reason, and that’s so you don’t use an audit for political purposes. That’s exactly what was done here. This audit was used for political purposes to not only embarrass this mayor, embarrass this dais, embarrass this staff.”

Mayor Kevin McCann agreed, calling out Maloy’s record of opposing the penny sales tax in the past. 

“Grant Maloy spoke out against the penny sales tax before he ran for office,” McCann said.  

“If residents hear all this misinformation and they build distrust in government … they’re doing it for a reason, because they don’t like the penny sales tax,” McCann said. “There’s a longer view. It isn’t just about Winter Springs.” 

“Outside eyes are healthy,” McCann added. “I’m all about transparency. I am concerned about some of the political stuff that’s going on.” 

Maloy said that the county’s analysis and response to the city’s clarifications will be coming, likely next week, part of the back-and-forth process Bruno said did not occur before the audit was released publicly. 

Maloy said that, in light of the confusion on the county’s release of the audit, which he referred to as a draft but also said he believed was a public record, the county might communicate it differently if the situation were to repeat itself in the future. 

“I would probably hold off in the future from releasing the final draft as a public records request,” Maloy said.  


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