October 26, 2010; Source: Tampabay.com | Did it really require an audit of a St. Petersburg, Fla., nonprofit for the city to freeze any more payments for revitalization work the group was doing on a key African-American historic business district? Why didn’t alarms go off when 22nd Street Redevelopment Inc. rehired former president Keith Harris after he resigned three months earlier in 2009 for what he said was a “lapse of good judgment and reckless spending?”
Whatever the reason for delaying action against the group, the city now has plenty of information about questionable financial practices. Along with the former president going back on payroll for the last four months of 2009, other audit findings include 60 expenditures that don’t seem connected to the group’s nonprofit mission, lack of receipts or invoices for other expenditures, and staffers receiving wages for which there isn’t proper documentation. The city has given the organization until the end of the year to produce missing paperwork and answer other questions before deciding whether to resume support or cut it off for good.
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Even though Tish Elston, the city’s top administrator, said the group deserved a chance to answer questions raised by the audit, she feels Harris’ rehiring, after such a messy departure, puts 22nd Street Redevelopment’s credibility at risk. Still the city felt the group deserved a chance so things wouldn’t “just blow up.” Council member Karl Nurse is a little less charitable in his feelings. He says the audit findings represent “a combination of incompetence and stealing” and suggest that giving it taxpayer money was “a horrible waste.”—Bruce Trachtenberg