EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

June 23, 2013

Editorial: Culture of dependency leads to fraud, theft

For a poor, cash-strapped city, Lawrence is remarkably careless with its cash.

The latest evidence of that carelessness is a report by Robert Nunes, the man sent in by the state in 2010 to oversee the city’s finances as the condition of a bailout to avert fiscal catastrophe.

The opening paragraph of Keith Eddings’ story last week on that report sums it up nicely:

“The city’s parking lots and garages are monitored by attendants whose cash-only collections are not verified, overseen by administrators who let the cash sit in drawers for weeks and secured only by obsolete surveillance cameras installed decades ago, according to a review released yesterday.”

As a result, the city is hemorrhaging money that people are paying to park their cars in city-owned garages and lots.

Where is the money going?

Investigators say thousands of dollars were stolen, and they have charged one parking attendant.

It was not a complicated scheme; it was something that would have come to light long ago had anyone been paying attention.

After the parking attendant was charged, it took Nunes less than two weeks to determine the parking operation is a shambles.

“The entire parking operation lacks any formalized standard operating procedures, instructions or best practices,” Nunes wrote. “There are no official job titles for managers and no detailed list of responsibilities for any of the 21 employees.”

The system is so dysfunctional and oversight so lax that parking receipts at the Museum Square garage dropped from a high of $31,000 in early 2011 to a low of just over $7,000 in May. But no one seems to have noticed or raised a red flag until the FBI and state police began investigating unrelated allegations involving the administration of Mayor William Lantigua.

This isn’t the first time Nunes has blown the whistle on bad management and lax or nonexistent oversight that have cost the city a significant amount of money.

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