Last month, Miami Beach's internal auditing department completed a report vetting the city's two major towing companies: Beach Towing and Tremont. The audit should be of great interest to residents and visitors, because the local towing industry has long been accused of malfeasance and general clownery. But the public might never see it — this past Wednesday, commissioners voted to stop the city's audit process and allow the towing companies to pay for a new audit from a third-party company.
Mayor Dan Gelber, a longtime attorney who says he's represented numerous clients during audits, said the move was highly irregular.
"I've never seen an audit being done where the guys being audited said, 'We're preliminarily so unhappy we want a new auditor,'" Gelber said at Wednesday's meeting. "It's just — it's weird."
Although the audit has not been publicly released, the findings were shared with the towing industry, which was not at all pleased by the results. The companies say city staff "cherrypicked" data and unfairly conflated gross vehicle weight with gross curb weight. That led towing lobbyist Ralph Andrade, who is paid $595 an hour to represent Beach Towing, to accuse the city's auditing department of unethical behavior.
"We welcome a fair and impartial audit, and at this point we don't feel we can get that from this particular internal auditor and department," Andrade told commissioners.
The dispute about the audit was made public in April at a meeting of the city's Neighborhood/Community Affairs Committee. Commissioner Michael Góngora sponsored a discussion about scrapping the city's report and turning the audit duties over to an independent contractor; he said he wanted to "depoliticize" the process.
His concerns were echoed by Commissioner John Alemán, who on Wednesday questioned whether the city's audit was "tipped in any way."
"If it is on an improper foundation with an improper methodology, then the conclusion is going to be improper," Alemán said. "But nevertheless, from a political standpoint, once that improper conclusion is issued from the manager’s office, to question it at that point will be cast as corrupt and improper."
During the discussion, the city's auditing staff was not given a chance to defend its work. Internal auditor Mark Coolidge did not respond to a request for comment from New Times.
Ultimately, Commissioners Góngora, Alemán, Micky Steinberg, and Ricky Arriola voted for the towing companies to get a redo with an outside auditing firm. Gelber, Joy Malakoff, and Mark Samuelian opposed the move; each expressed skepticism about giving the industry such leeway.
"I don't see why we would stop the process at this point," Samuelian said. "It seems a little bit unusual to me, so I would be supportive of completing the audit."
City Manager Jimmy Morales will be tasked with finding an outside auditor of the city's choosing; however, the towing companies will pay for the audits.
It's unclear if the city's internal audit of the towing industry will ever be released. New Times has placed numerous requests for the report, but as of yesterday, it was not yet considered part of the public record.
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