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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Parks Department looks to overhaul cemeteries maintenance contract
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has started meetings relating to the maligned cemetery maintenance contract that the city holds with Intercare Corporation. Angela Means, who runs the PARD Financial Services division, told In Fact Daily that officials hope to have the issues sorted out by the end of this calendar year, but she added that the department will be back at the Council Audit and Finance Committee on Sept. 15.
Eventually, the deal will include a contract amendment that will clarify the scope of work for which Intercare is responsible as part of its maintenance of the city’s five cemeteries. However, the new section of the deal may not be in place by the time the Parks Department reports to the Council’s Audit and Finance Committee, where the problems recently came to light in an audit.
Meanwhile, Council members and staff have both hinted at the possibility that the contract with Intercare Corporation could be terminated.
In the audit, a number of problems with that deal and the manner in which those facilities are cared for were revealed. The document also cited the Parks Department for a lack of management over the agreement.
Further, the auditor’s office discovered that, at its 2006 renewal, the contract was reconstituted using “a collection of documents” instead of being rewritten entirely. No room was left for an official clarification should a conflict in documents arise, as it did when the city’s Purchasing Office and Parks Department produced different sets of documents for the audit.
“Overall, we found that due to poor contract management and oversight, the city has no assurance that the cemetery contractor is providing all services for which the city is paying,” Assistant City Auditor Nicoletta Raggi said at the committee’s most recent meeting.
According to Raggi, auditors were able to “determine that the contractor is not providing all maintenance service to the city’s cemeteries.” She showed the members of the Council Audit and Finance Committee pictures that illustrated just that.
In response to Raggi’s report, Parks and Recreation Director Sarah Hensley told the committee that her department agreed “100 percent” with the findings of the report. “We are already in the process of making…improvements, and we will continue to do so so that we can get these cemeteries on par,” she said.
Among the moves that her department had made, Hensley cited a cemetery business analysis currently underway and internal action on management of that contract and others. She then absorbed some hits from Council members.
“This is not an uncommon thing for…our Parks director to have to come forward and take responsibility for contracts that haven’t been managed appropriately,” said Council Member Randi Shade. Shade noted that some members of the public had been “sharing these concerns in many cases for decades.”
“I appreciate your responsiveness to this, but this is really terrible,” she said.
For his part, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez suggested that the city look at legislative options to legally punish Intercare. He told the body that he knew that current law “is pretty severe if you deface a cemetery.”
“To me it was no different when I saw this report in that it’s someone who knowingly and willingly signs a contract to upkeep and maintain our cemeteries and then knowingly and willingly doesn’t fulfill that responsibility,” he added. “I think they should be held…to the same standards…of someone who vandalizes or defaces a cemetery.”
Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Cora Wright told In Fact Daily that the effort to get everything in order “might not be as extensive as we’re all thinking.” She added that she “feels fairly certain that the contractor will avail himself to this process fairly quickly.”
Means wasn’t as certain as her colleague about whether Intercare would be quick to the bargaining table. “I don’t know,” she said. “We won’t know until the purchasing office checks in with (Intercare).”
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