SOUTH BAY, Fla. - In an audit released Thursday by the Inspector General's office, The city of South Bay's former city manager is accused of wasting more than $300,000 in taxpayer dollars.
Director of Audit, Dennis Schindel, said a deeper look into the city's operations began in November. He says the former city manager, Corey L. Alston, was wrongly given vacation pay out of more than $25,000. Schindel says that pay should not have been approved by commissioners before Alston was out of office.
"It raised concern for us with regard to what else if going on with regard to operations in that city," said Schindel.
Auditors say after that, they learned that Alston charged more than $7,000 onto a city credit card not long after taking office in 2009. "To us that was a clear red flag right at the start of his employment that the city commissioner should have paid closer attention to," Schindel said.
Commissioners had him reimburse only a portion of the $7,000.
Being that the city was already under a financial emergency, Schindel said commissioners should have suspended his spending privileges. Instead, he says Alston ran up more than $50,000 in charges, more than $30,000 of which are questionable, according to Schindel.
"The more we dug in, the more we saw just serious lack of internal controls," said Schindel.
Other wasteful spending on the behalf of city employees included $122,268 to consultants outside of the approval of the commission, $17,306 for a bus that sitting in storage as scrap, $6,071 for lunches and parties, $887 in flowers to employees, and nearly $18,000 on an employee credit card who no longer worked for the city.
Questionable costs added up to $306,377, all approved by Alston, according to Schindel. "You shake your head and say how could something like this happen?" Shindel said.
Three of five commissioners have been suspended facing charges of violating the sunshine law, or disclosing public information, of the vacation pay out. One has been convicted, while the two others are awaiting trial.
The governor has appointed one commissioner so that the city will have three acting commissioners.
There will be a special election in May to fill the two commissioner seats. Schindel said the two suspended commissioners will be on the ballot.
Alston told his side of the story on Friday, saying the Inspector General's office is "grossly" exaggerating the circumstances. "No expense was made that wasn't budgeted or approved by the city commission. There was only one city credit card in the city of South Bay. It was locked up. I did not have a personal credit card," Alston said.
Schindel says the Inspector General has only completed the first phase of the audit. He says there will be a second phase, in addition to a criminal investigation by the state attorney's office.
Alston is facing theft charges.
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