Last June, Tampa's Clean City Division spent more than $40,000 on leaf blowers, trimmers and chainsaws. Six months later, most of them have never been used.
They sit untouched in a storage shed in Lowry Park as a symbol of what the mayor acknowledges is a pattern of mismanagement in the city's groundskeeping unit. The first-ever audit of Clean City found the division has done a poor job keeping track of its equipment, its contractors and its staff.
"We've got some challenges there that we need to resolve, and I'm going to resolve them," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said this week.
Clean City crews maintain medians along city roads. They also pick up litter, patrol for illegal signs along roadsides, clear away graffiti and clean up illegal dump sites.
This year, the division has a budget of $4.5 million and 47 workers.
Last month, city Audit Director Roger Strout finished his study of Clean City's activities from October 2010 to mid-2012.
His report, which goes to the city council on Thursday, takes Clean City officials to task for a host of shortcomings. They include questionable purchases with the division's credit card; lax accounting for equipment and workers' time, including a tolerance for theft; and a slow response to residents' calls for customer service.
The problems aren't impairing the city's ability to maintain its property, Strout wrote, "however they do present a risk that can be more effectively controlled."
The biggest risk is that poor recordkeeping and lackadaisical leadership could let contractors and city employees rip off taxpayers, Strout said this week.
Buckhorn said he has ordered an overhaul.
"The problem is the leadership," Buckhorn said. "Ultimately, supervisors are responsible for the performance of their departments. If they're not doing that, there are going to be changes."
Buckhorn wouldn't say whether those changes will involve Clean City chief Jim Pinkney, who makes nearly $90,000 a year. Pinkney has worked for the city since 2000.
"We're going to work on that department and see what its future is going to look like," Buckhorn said. "It's going to look different than it does now."
Among the first steps toward that future: Clean City workers must get approval from higher ups before spending money.
That decision grew out of reports that Clean City staffers had made 41 purchases using the division's credit cards during the review period. Nine of those — totaling about $467 — were for holiday decorations and party supplies.
Another $136 went for "specialty office supplies" and $850 paid for a granite commemorative marker that auditors said had nothing to do with the city.
Staffers also broke up two purchases into smaller chunks to avoid triggering the city's bid process.
"We're going to make sure random supervisors aren't out there spending money on things that aren't necessary," Buckhorn said.
The list of unnecessary purchases includes dozens of landscaping power tools now sitting idle in Lowry Park.
Auditors said Clean City officials couldn't produce an inventory of the blowers, trimmers and similar tools. They also couldn't account for the vast majority of 200 litter collecting tools. Bought early last year, all but a few of the devices were missing by September, the report said.
Supervisors told the auditors the devices frequently broke or were stolen. Clean City crew members didn't have to report damaged or stolen gear, supervisors told the auditors.
Clean City officials spend $3,000 on 30 sets of chaps to protect crews using chainsaws. When auditors came knocking, six of those sets were missing and 10 were in storage.
All those tools will eventually get used, Buckhorn said.
Clean City officials also did a poor job supervising contractors managing 208 parcels of vacant land for the city. In 40 percent of those cases, the city paid contractors without actually inspecting their work, the auditors reported.
Properties were added and dropped from the maintenance list without a lot of record-keeping. As a result, no one was sure exactly which properties contractors maintain.
Supervisors weren't any better at tracking their employees. When auditors asked to see records showing workers' weekly schedules, "very few could be produced," Strout's report said.
Some Clean City workers ended up doing work the city had not signed off on at schools, Raymond James Stadium and public golf courses.
Tampa Sports Authority spokeswoman Barbara Casey said her group had an informal agreement with Clean City to do work at the stadium when workers had time.
"We were just worked-in when there was some free time," she said.
Auditors accounted for nearly $35,000 in work either on non-city property or overlapping with contractors.
"Additional work was thought to have been performed," they wrote. "But there was no evidence to support the work or the costs incurred."
Auditors also found Clean City did a poor job responding to residents' calls for service. Auditors looked at 30 randomly selected calls. In more than half, Clean City staff took a month on average to respond to callers.
On at least one occasion, workers took more than two months to respond to a call for service, auditors found.