Audit: ATL code compliance looked good — after cooking the books
By CLAY DUDA and JIM WALLS
Atlanta’s Office of Code Compliance manipulated inspection data to inflate the agency’s caseload and vastly overstate its performance, city auditors say. Its files were such a mess that workers often couldn’t even find paperwork for a particular case.
OCC staff routinely entered inspection dates in an electronic data system even when cases had not yet been inspected, city auditor Leslie Ward’s report said. Each month, an employee extracted all records with a blank “first inspection” field and manually filled in the last day of the month.
The staff member told us that two previous office directors condoned this method of calculating elapsed time although they were aware that it gave the impression that code compliance officers conducted inspections sooner than they actually did. Both directors no longer work for the city.
The tampering distorted the department’s monthly productivity to varying degrees, depending on the number of blank inspection files.
In November, for instance, the OCC reported an average response time of 14 days to highly hazardous complaints — open and vacant properties, raw sewage, and properties without heat or water. But auditors calculated the average inspection time was really 170 days.
The office’s goal is to complete the first inspection for highly hazardous cases within seven days.
The mayor’s office accepted OCC’s productivity information without checking the underlying data, the audit found:
Mayor’s office staff told us that due to resource constraints, they do not review data supporting performance measures unless senior management questions the validity of reported measures.
The audit was delivered to the City Council last week. OCC has been asking for money to hire more inspectors, but auditors said they couldn’t justify the new positions because the agency’s data is so screwed up.
Auditors chose 35 case files for random review, but the OCC could not locate 21 of them. Of the 14 files they could find, 27 fields did not match up with the file’s electronic counterpart.
The lack of reliable data inhibited the auditor’s ability to assess the OCC’s staffing needs, as statistics showed a rise in code complaints along with property foreclosures. The audit calculated a work load of 6 inspections per work day for each inspector, well below OCC performance standards for previous years.
Given OCC’s own data, the office should be able to handle the current volume of code complaints with the 19 inspectors on payroll, auditors said. Inspectors are supposed to be handling 10 inspections per day.
The audit also discovered incomplete information in OCC’s electronic ATLStat system and inconsistencies between electronic and hard copy reports. This despite spending $1.6 million to migrate data in November from the old system (KIVA) to a new one (Accela):
The city’s scope of work with Accela identified fields necessary for office staff to effectively manage historical cases. However, some of the data, such as the property owner fields, failed to migrate from KIVA to Accela. Without the owner data, office staff cannot assess whether a property owner is a repeat offender. Although city staff said they reviewed the system to ensure that all the data identified in the scope of work migrated to Accela, they were unable to provide us with the documentation of that review.
The city’s Department of Planning and Community Development agreed with all of the audit’s recommendations and said it is working to address them. The mayor’s office said it plans to have procedures in place by Dec. 31 to make sure code compliance data in the ATLStat program is accurate.
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