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City Audit Finds $317K Improperly Spent On Lobbying Firm

Jeff Wright
Flickr Creative Commons

JACKSONVILLE — A City Council auditor found that $317,000 that should have been used on city projects was spent instead on a consulting company, which is also a registered lobbying group.

The auditor could not say why money was given to the consultant group or what was accomplished with it.

The auditor said he contacted the current mayor's administration about the findings and that neither his office nor the mayor's could see any “tangible outcomes or results” from the contract with Infinity Global Solutions.

The audit was requested by Councilman Reggie Brown, who had asked for $400,000 to be spent on four projects in 2011: building renovations for a community rehabilitation center, renovations for a vacant medical building, building expansion for Forestview Community Center and concrete bleachers for the Bob Hayes Sports Complex.

But a large portion of the bond money was instead used to pay for a consulting services contract with IGS, which is not an allowable use of the funds, the auditor found. The city's Housing and Neighborhoods Department had entered into the contract with IGS.

The auditor found more than 3-1/2 years the size of the city contract grew eight times, from $98,000 to $868,000, even though what IGS was responsible for did not change. IGS was tasked with providing consulting services involved with neighborhood-based community redevelopment and commercial development.

The I-TEAM obtained a June 2011 memo from Wight Greger, the director of Housing and Neighborhoods at the time, requesting that the size of the IGS contract be increased to $868,000, an increase of $400,000.

Greger outlined that the extra money would come from the four projects Brown had requested.

She also asked that the IGS contract be extended another year.

In the memo, Greger wrote to the city's head of procurement “the Housing and Neighborhoods Department respectfully requests that the above referenced contract (with IGS) be amended. The scope of services will remain the same.”

Greger later left the department and started her own consulting business, of which IGS was a client.

The city's dealings with IGS began in 2007 and were initiated by then Director of Housing and Neighborhoods Kerri Stewart. At the time, Stewart worked under Mayor John Peyton. She also worked during the first months of Mayor Alvin Brown's administration.

She left in September 2011 and was hired by IGS as senior vice president.

Stewart is now Mayor Lenny Curry's chief of staff.

Curry has introduced a bill to give the money back to Brown's district account. The auditor says that $317,000 will come from the city's general fund.

In a statement to the I-TEAM on Tuesday, mayor's office spokeswoman Marsha Oliver said that Curry has reviewed the audit report and is following its recommendations, including redirecting funds.

"Audits afford us the opportunity to learn from challenges while strengthening our operations and services," Oliver said. "Within his first 90 days, Mayor Curry commissioned an audit to gain greater insight and understanding of the City’s financial health."

She said Curry could not speak to previous administrations' practices.

“Upon his election, Mayor Curry has sought to lead with transparency, fiscal responsibility and proper stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars," Oliver said. "He is as equally committed to working closely with the Jacksonville City Council on addressing the needs of citizens and the communities they serve."

The I-TEAM has also contacted IGS for comment.