Friday, October 12, 2012

Audit launched into program awarding gift cards to City Hall employees

Posted By on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 at 10:39 AM

The city auditor has launched a probe into a City Hall program that awarded gift cards from Macy's, Red Lobster, and Target to workers for good behavior — and which a former beancounter from the Department of Watershed Management says got out of control.

City Auditor Leslie Ward told the Atlanta City Council's Finance and Executive Committee on Wednesday that she started the investigation late last week at the request of Chief Operating Officer Duriya Farooqui. While a spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed says the city supports employee-recognition programs, the current system needs stronger controls and more accountability. According to WAGA, the city's spent as much as $20,000 on gift cards this year.

The gift-card program began in 2008 in the final years of former Mayor Shirley Franklin's second and final term. The downturn in the economy and resulting major budget crunch at City Hall resulted in layoffs, furloughs, and pay freezes, and city officials wanted to boost morale and show their appreciation to employees working under tough conditions.

"Many employees watched colleagues lose their jobs as a result of citywide downsizing, leading to low morale and anxiety in the workforce," a spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed said in an email.

Angelo Veney, a former finance supervisor from the city's department of watershed management, told WAGA's Morse Diggs last week that his department handed out gift cards as high as $100 to Macy's, Red Lobster, and Target.

Farooqui last Friday told all departments to suspend their existing employee recognition programs, stop distributing the gift cards, and turn over remaining cards to the mayor's office. She's asked Ward to conduct an audit looking into the purchases and to include "recommendations for a best-in-class employee recognition program moving forward," the mayor's spokeswoman said.

She added: "Once the audit is complete, the city will determine an approach to recognize those City of Atlanta employees who take pride in their work, execute at a high level and exemplify the best in public service."

There's no specific timeline for when the "limited-scope" audit will be completed, but Ward told councilmembers she's hoping for a "quick turnaround."

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