The Portsmouth City Council voted Tuesday to spend $300,000 on a forensic audit into how the city has spent some of its federal pandemic relief.
City Manager Tonya Chapman had called for an independent investigation and forensic audit in a Nov. 22 meeting, alleging that around $80,000 in COVID-19 relief money might not have been accounted for under her predecessor, Angel Jones, whom Chapman replaced this summer.
Last year, council members agreed to spend approximately $3.3 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funding on gift cards for direct relief to seniors and youth impacted by the pandemic. A total of 12,000 gift cards of $100 and 4,075 gift cards of $500 were ordered, with around $27,000 spent on activation fees.
Chapman said an internal investigation suggests the gift cards weren’t securely stored or might not have been properly accounted for while Jones was city manager. She also questioned the process used for distributing the cards because the list of residents who received the cards included duplicate names and IDs and not all gift cards were distributed.
Interim Chief Financial Officer Flora Berisha told council members Tuesday that the audit will review the distribution and procurement processes used for the gift cards, in addition to whether any funds from the budget were appropriately used for various programs.
Berisha also said the audit will review public utilities billing transactions from October 2021 to September 2022 amid concerns that personal vehicles might have been serviced with public funds.
City spokesperson Peter Glagola, however, told The Virginian-Pilot Wednesday that that’s partly correct. He said the audit will not be investigating any allegations about the servicing of personal vehicles.
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He said the initial audit will only review the pandemic relief fund spending as well as some general fund spending from the budget. A separate audit, he clarified, will then assess public utilities and waste management billing practices. Chapman will be providing more information about the latter in a future City Council meeting, Glagola said.
He added that city staff are still working to finalize the scope of work, and that additional concerns could be assessed under a separate audit following council approval.
Councilman Bill Moody told The Pilot Wednesday he supported the audit, but added that council members weren’t briefed that public money might have been used to service private vehicles before they voted Tuesday.
“It was news to me,” he said.
The city has not yet received a final quote or signed contracts for the audits.
Mayor Shannon Glover was the only “no” vote. He told The Pilot Wednesday he wasn’t comfortable agreeing to use $300,000 of taxpayer money for the audit since council members have not been fully informed about the scope of work or a plan moving forward.
Natalie Anderson, 757-732-1133, firstname.lastname@example.org