Sweetwater Mayor José M. Díaz says he will shut down his troubled city’s Finance Department while an audit is performed to determine whether a financial emergency should be declared.
Díaz said the lack of transparency and the department’s irregularities don’t leave him much of a choice. He made the announcement in a press conference Wednesday, but did not say exactly when he would close the department.
Already, the mayor’s announcement has drawn harsh criticism.
“He doesn’t understand how government finances work,” said Commissioner Orlando López, who accuses the mayor of creating more chaos. “He is an inept official.”
López has already announced plans to run against Díaz in the mayoral election next year. He said the city does not have a financial crisis and has threatened to file a lawsuit if Díaz goes through with his plans to shut down the Finance Department.
Meanwhile, Díaz said the department will continue to cover salaries, and that services for the elderly and children, such as meals and parks, will continue.
But Díaz said the city cannot continue to cut checks for other items because no one has any idea how much money is in the budget.
He also revealed that 14 accounts have been discovered in five different banks. It is not clear how much money is in the accounts.
“We have to determine whether to declare a state of emergency,” Díaz said. “These are serious words. We are going to review every bank account, every detail, all money coming in and money going out.”
Under Florida law, the governor’s office determines whether a city meets the criteria to declare a financial emergency, which requires state intervention.
Cities usually declare a financial emergency in cases of bankruptcy.
The mayor also announced that the city recently discovered a flaw in its computer system causing it to release incorrect figures. It shows a balance of $30 million in property taxes, when the balance should be $3.5 million, according to Díaz.
Díaz fired several key employees last week, including Finance Director Anny Chez, who had worked for the city since 2007.
The mayor said Chez had issued wrong information about the city’s accounts, including revenue from traffic-light camera fines and police department accounts.
Díaz also said that money that should have been deposited in specific accounts ended up in the city’s general fund.
Chez did not respond calls from El Nuevo Herald.