With the city’s decision to halt grant payments to Mosaic Cultural Complex first reported by the Sun Sunday and a press release from the city manager Monday announcing a request for an independent investigation by the state Attorney General, reaction to the developments was swirling well before last night’s [Tuesday, Feb. 3] City Council meeting.
Predictably, not everyone agreed on the move.
Councilor at-large Michael T. Gaffney said, “We should be handling our own business. It’s embarrassing that the city of Worcester can’t handle its own audits and its own business and that it needs to be transferred to Boston.”
Gaffney had submitted an agenda item for last night’s meeting to audit the validity of time sheets and related records routinely submitted for reimbursement. He and District 5 Councilor Gary Rosen initiated an audit of the city’s administration of the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund grant in July. Released by the city in October, the review revealed possible state labor law violations by Mosaic.
The findings included evidence that two full-time employees had gone seven months without being paid.
“I believe that asking an outside, independent agency to look into this matter is the best course to promote transparency and ensure public confidence in the expenditure of these state funds,” Augustus wrote in his Monday evening statement.
City spokesman John Hill told the Sun exclusively Friday, Jan. 29, the city asked Mosaic to cease operations on work under the grant pending the signing of an amended contract. In Monday’s statement, Augustus also said he put a hold on the contract and reimbursements to Mosaic.
A representative from the attorney general’s office confirmed Tuesday it received a referral from the city manager regarding payments made to Mosaic from the fund. The spokesman said the referral was in review but declined comment on what steps would be taken.
Councilor at-large Kathleen M. Toomey supports the city manager’s decision to involve the attorney general’s office and said that the city owes the public clarification in regards to questions being raised about Mosaic.
“I think it’s appropriate that an outside agency look at this completely and thoroughly,” Toomey said.
Rosen, too, is on board.
“Now that so many additional questions and concerns have been raised about the work ethic and honesty of the Mosaic Cultural Complex, I support the City Manager’s decision to turn all the information and facts over to the investigative division of the Attorney General’s office,” he said in an email.
“I think if someone isn’t compliant, then they need to make changes or we will have to do what we have to do,” Toomey added. “I know that there were some good things done and some good people involved. No one likes to see something go down like this.”
Requests for comment from District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera and Councilor at-large Khrystian King, who have both been involved with events at Mosaic’s 41 Piedmont St. headquarters, went unreturned.
King had agreed to speak with a reporter regarding Mosaic prior to the Sun’s Sunday, Jan. 31, report detailing the city’s decision. He has since been unavailable.
At last night’s meeting, King said he supported an investigation. However, he also called for an end to the “theater” that surrounds the issue. Additionally, in a statement seemingly directed at Gaffney, who had earlier in the evening mentioned Mosaic workers by name, King said targeting people by name is out of order.
Gaffney’s main concerns with the payroll timesheets include Mosaic employee Michael Jerry working 11 straight hours for all but one Tuesday over a three-month period. Another concern of Gaffney’s is a clerical error on Mosaic co-founder Minnyetta Marie Boone’s timesheet that could prove fraud.
“It looks as if their timesheets have been copy-and-pasted. Never mind the fact that there has been no discussion about labor laws. You can’t work 10 hours straight without a break,” Gaffney said after a review of Mosaic’s timesheets from April 1 to June 30, 2015.
The timesheets, obtained by the Sun, read that Boone worked from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., instead of what Gaffney said should likely read “5:30 p.m.”
Councilor at-large Konstantina Lukes said Gaffney’s most recent request for an audit of Mosaic’s timesheets should be amended to include a full operational audit.
“That’s what was missing the first time around. The auditor [City Auditor Robert Stearns] was only looking at documents and financial guidelines. He wasn’t really concerned about if they [Mosaic] were providing services,” Lukes said.
Since November 2014, Mosaic has received more than $200,000 in reimbursement checks from the city. The money from the grant comes from fees from health insurance companies and large hospitals.
According to the audit, “Mosaic submitted a claim for reimbursement dated May 12, 2015 for payroll expenses incurred for the period October 1 – December 31, 2014 without payroll registers. Mosaic paid employees for this work period, October 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014, on September 23, 2015.”
“I conceded the last time. I let them do their audit. The audit I requested asked for specific information. They audit we ended up doing audited all the agencies and that’s what they [the city] got. And still, it didn’t help Mosaic,” Gaffney said.
Mosaic had until Jan. 1 to be on the same reimbursement cycle has the other grant recipients. The city required Mosaic to work on a three-month cycle in which they would have to submit payroll journals proving that they paid their employees and that paychecks were cut.
Augustus also required Mosaic to abide by the original terms of the contract and said the city would cease up-front payments if those terms were not met.
Mosaic failed to comply with the city’s requests. As a result, and depending on the findings of the attorney general’s office, the city may have to find another partner for the hypertension component of the community work for which Mosaic was responsible.
“It’s sad. I’m sorry that this happened, but I do believe we have a responsibility to ensure that we have oversight of the money and that people are complying with the rules and regulations,” Toomey said.
Requests for comment to multiple representatives from Mosaic Cultural Complex went unreturned.