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interviewed by Robert Kerstein.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (37 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman administration oral history project
Interview conducted on November 17, 2005.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
During the tenure of Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman (1986-1995), Lou Prida served as the administration's internal auditor. The interview begins with a discussion of Mr. Prida's education and the start of his work for the city in 1983. Mr. Prida discusses the internal auditing process of the city of Tampa, fixed costs, and budgeting constraints. He also discusses the city's parking garage system. The interview ends with a discussion of Mr. Prida's current (2007) work and his CPA firm located in Tampa.
Office of the Mayor.
Kerstein, Robert J.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0
1 Sandy Freedman Oral History Project University of South Florida Interview with: Lou Prida Interviewed by: Robert Kerstein Location: Unknown (Tampa, FL) Date: November 17, 2005 Transcribed by: Rebecca Willman Audit edited by: Rachel Lisi (2/14/07) Final Edit by: Nicole Cox (10/01/07) [Tape 1, Side A] RK: This is an interview with Mr. Lou Prida who was the internal auditor during the administration of Sandy Freedman. Thanks very much for speaking with me. Can I please ask a little bit about your background first? LP: Yes. RK: Were you born in Tampa? LP: Born and raised in Tampa, Florida. Born in 1950 at the oldest Centro As turiano Hospital in Ybor City. RK: What neighborhood did you grow up in? LP: I grew up in Riverside Heights which was just south of, [at] that time Buffalo, King Boulevard now, on the east side of the river, on the corner of Ridge and Kentucky. RK: An d where did you go to school, sir? LP: I went to St. Joseph Elementary School in West Tampa, Jesuit High School, and then graduated from the University of Florida in 1972. RK: And were you an accounting major? LP: Yes, I was an accounting major at the University of Florida. RK: OK. And when did you start working for the city, sir? LP: I started working in August of 1983.
2 RK: During the Martinez administration? LP: During the Martinez administration. RK: How did that come about? How did you get the position? LP: Actually we, Mayor Martinez owned a restaurant Caf Sevilla, and we did the So we had, there was a familiarity and I was a very big supporter of Ma rtinez in his run family, of their family. RK: And when you first went to work for the city was that as an internal auditor? LP: Yes I was, at that time because they were having such a hard time finding and keeping directors. The, the city attorney was a part time position at that time, so they tried to fashion the audit department in the same way where the director would be bring somebody with experience from, from outside on a part time basis. And we had a staff of nine audit people in, in house, they were full time auditors. [Phone ri ngs] RK: And sir, what are the responsibilities of the internal auditor? LP: The internal audit of the City of Tampa was basically to do operational reviews under, under yellow book standards that were formulated by GAL accounting office of the various departments. And how often those departments would get reviews would be dependent on a risk assessment that we would do. Some departments we considered high risk because of the amount of either budget, budget dollars that were allocated to them, or just th e type of, if they were an enterprise fund which operated like a business. Just what type of inherent risks those departments had, those would get annual reviews. Some departments would get every other year, some would be every third year. And then we ha d some departments that were just so low risk that we only looked at them about once every five years. RK: And you wrote reports based upon them? LP: Right we wrote reports based on those operational reviews. RK: Now sir, did this include what some peo if they were
3 effective or not? LP: Right. We tried to, we would look at internal controls and of course make sure that there were internal control s in place to conserve assets, but we also looked at the performance of each department to determine whether they were meeting their goals and objectives. RK: Now did you sometimes face resistance from department heads? LP: Oh, absolutely. When we, actua lly, when I went in there we kind of reconstructed the audit department, and from a processing standpoint. What we used to do is, when our findings and recommendations. Then we would have an exit conference with the auditees OK, you know give us your written responses. And then it was, usually something completely different than what was discussed in the meeting. So we changed our process around, in that before we and ask them to respond in writ go and sit in an exit conference and try to work out whatever differences we had. presented, or maybe the auditor missed it or you know, just try to consider whatever we could consider in order to, to come up with a report that actually made sense in the context of, of the chief at the time Mayor, whether it was Martinez or Freedman in the context of what they were lo oking for in their operations. RK: Did this change in process, sir, occur prior to the Freedman administration or afterwards? LP: No, it, it was prior. Mayor Martinez gave, and also Mayor Freedman, actually Mayor Freedman gave us much more latitude tha n Mayor Martinez. Because Mayor Martinez would always, would sometimes, if we dug in too deep on, on policy, on findings and recommendations that actually were not an absolute in other words it was, the principle, but it was a matter of style he, he really management decisions. Mayor Freedman gave us much more latitude to be able to because the focus during the tion was, number one, you know, we were, there were market, we had a stock market crash; the banks were being thrown out of business. There was always a stewardship that she took very, very seriously to make sure the city was run wasted.
4 LP: Right. position? LP: Yes. I had, I knew Mayor Freedman prior to her taking office. And she was at City Council and I had a very good relationship with her, she was always very su pportive of the department while she was at City Council. RK: And how would you characterize her management style? I got the impression sir, from what you just said that she would, kept a very close look at the money? LP: Yeah. Yeah, you know she took her, her, her, responsibilities very, very serious. She looked at herself as a fiduciary to the taxpayers in the City of Tampa. And she certainly wanted to operate the city as much as she could as, in, a style that a private enterprise or a public corporat ion would operate in that, you know, we wanted to maximize value for the, for the tax payers of the city. Whether it was lower tax rates or you know, better quality of life you know, whatever, whatever the issues were. Because you know, each neighborhood i n the city kind of had different priorities, they had different values. So her focus was to, to pay back to have a pay back to the city, to the neighborhoods in the city based on what their priorities were. In terms of their value system. RK: And did that make it more difficult for you in a sense? LP: Well, we were, we were really focused on, on, on departments is what we were ultimately what departments do impacts neighbor hoods. So we were always very focused on you know were, were the departments accomplishing you know, the, the goals that had been set for them? Were, were they accomplishing their mission so to speak? RK: Now I know this is a long time back, so this migh t be a difficult question sir, but can you think of any examples where [a] department was operating perhaps as it had been for several years and your recommendations brought about some changes that perhaps the mayor supported? LP: Oh, I can think of a fe w. Obviously some of the less controversial ones were, we were the about Central Garage doing two thousand dollar brake jobs. And, or, having a front end aligned for exorbitant p rices. And, and actually what happened was, is we, we went and did an audit of, of the Central, and had done several audits. And sat down with the mayor and explained to her that, that, that Central Garage was not an enterprise fund, it was a fixed cost. A nd, and therefore being a fixed cost, whether you did one brake job or you did 10 brake jobs, you would that money was going to get spent. So if you had a budget of 10 dollars, whether you did one brake job, which, that brake job would have been 10
5 bucks, or you did 10 brake jobs, then the cost per brake job would be one dollar, you were going to spend the 10 dollars. RK: IS that because of a contract? budget at the beginning of the year and then they have to they spend their budget. So mayor was looking for some money, because the city was tight, Martinez had set the trend to reduce property taxes and keep them low. And she certainly wanted and that was part of her fiduciary responsibility and she recognized it and it was, it was one of her core values that she wanted to maintain as far as being the mayor in the City of Tampa. And so she was, she was looking for ways to save money within the city. And so we suggested to her Mayor, just cut two million dollars out of this budget. And you know, not million down to seven million and she cut two million out, and nothing changed. Because, you know, they, they had access capacity. The fleet was a newer fleet, we had made some some which included police cars, and we had made some decisions about that, so therefore there was reduced cost from that perspective. And, and so really had, had no impact on, on a, on the operation of that department. any employees lose their jobs because of it? LP: They the way Freedman approached it is she always did things through attrition. So, you know, so and they had a very tight and that was the other thing. She, you know, I, I, even in my private practice now when I advise clients, I try to model I try to advise them using her model. Because she was very, very tight. For example, if you wanted to hire any department wanted to hire somebody that had to go on her desk for t just fill positions because you know, it was in your budget. You had to show a critical need. So what happened, and so, so she never from best of my recollection, she never laid anybody off, but she did, as, as people left through attrition, would not re place them. And would realign the priorities of that department to accomplish the tasks that needed to be, to be accomplished. RK: You mentioned sir that you already made decisions regarding the police. Can you explain that? LP: Well it was a funny wee k. The mayor came to me, she says, I need to find three million dollars in our budget. I think we were just finishing up the Convention Center at the time. And so I had a, a deputy director who was a full time employee by the name of Allen Nicks, who had, who was a long time city employee going all the way back to walked out of the meeting and says, you know, I know where we can find some money. And I say, well, wher e? He says, you know, the and we knew at the time that the sheriff,
6 Hillsborough County Sheriff had a policy that they, their, their policemen could take cars their officers could take cars home, but not outside the county. They, they could drive to the co use their personal vehicles out of, out of the, from there. So we did a big study on police car usage. And the exact details escape me today, but we came to the conclusion that there would be a material effect on cost and, and replacement of those vehicles if we limited police cars to, to the city limits. In other words, just the same policy as the sheriff. policeman and want to take your car home, you need to live in the city limits. If you lived outside the city limits, then you needed to park at the city limits, drive home and just the So when we presented the report to the mayor, the police chief, and I name at the time. RK: Was it Chief Smith? You know, he, he flat out said, ng to police that. So if cars away from them completely. So she, she, the big hit she took or big criticism was, that she took the cars away from police officers. I back, [the] first thing you have to look in the backdrop of the economic environment we were in there was limited resources, we were trying to make this a next great city. You know, there was, you know there was all sorts of efforts to, for people to put their nozzles in the public trough, and she was continuously kicking them out. And she had to, and from her perspective, knowing how she thinks from a fiduciary standpoint, she had to operate the city in the most economic manner. Well, she had a department head that was unwilling to, that actually she was, she was wanting to say, And, which is really a fair it mirrors the sheriff it would h ave not have been out of, out of context, and it still would have accomplished her goals. But she had a department head who was unwilling to, to establish department policy and, and basically said, nah, So, and Fre edman was the type that would you know, if, if could say, well, maybe she should have f orced the officer, the chief at that time to, to institute that policy able to within those guardrails. And so t
7 RK: Do you know if the officers were aware that it was the chief who basically made the decision? paramilitary type. needed to be taken. The truth is it probably had an impact over, over her administration; probably had an additional four or five million dollars available for other things. And it economic environment to navigate in. RK: Do you recall any other examples of audits of different departments. LP: Oh, gee. You know we did a parking garage one time where a parking director, the his analysis of how much daily parking should be available versus monthly parking was based on social policy rather than some economic model that would maximize revenues. And I think there was, a million and a half, two million dollar impact of that over a life of RK: Can I just ask, when you just mentioned social policies, sir? LP: Righ parking as possible, even if the parking garage goes half empty, versus a, an analysis wher X number of daily parkers and Y number of monthly parkers. Because monthly parkers come in, they use a sp space. The, you know, you have competing interests you know, in that buildings that are attached to that public parking garage would surely like that your daily pa rking be available as much as possible. Whereas the other, the, the bond holders of those bonds without realizing it sitting in a public position as a public trust, as a fiduciary in a, in a trust situation, you have to, you have to navigate those competing interests. Too many daily parkers mean more revenues. You know, more monthly parkers means higher revenues, but le ss availability for tenants in you know, at the time I think there was a, a, huge waiting list for monthly parkers, and there was no effort made to you know, see, OK how much, how much, how many empty sp aces do we have on the daily demand to do an analysis to determine do we have the optimal amount of monthly parkers? So you go through that, that analysis was never done. W hen we did do that, and actually ended up increasing, eliminating a waiting list for monthly parkers with very little impact on the daily side, and increasing revenues.
8 LP: Well, you know, efficiency to a c ertain, you know operational review covers a lot Council passes. For example the Con vention Center needs to management needs to follow. And you got to make sure that all those, all those decisions are made in compliance with, with rules and regulations. So one of the things that we, we always because we were always having to get interpretations of, of you know, what these rules and regulations that were passed by Council. Or what city policies were versus what the employees, you know, the department heads, what their actions were to determine if they were in compliance with, with the rules and regulations. So it encompassed a lot of different things. RK: Are these reports all public for anyone who wants to know? e around on microfiche. RK: Mayor Freedman was known in part at least for her relatively successful in most at as well? LP: Yeah, we looked, you know, from the housin g side, there were a couple audits there, how the, how those programs were administered, whether they, you know, because there were federal grants involved, whether those rules were followed and, and she ran a pretty clean tight ship there. You know, there you know and those, because of the technical, real problem. RK: What department to do your job adequately? LP: Director of finance, Lou Russo, was you know I have great affection for Lou. I thought he was probably one of the, the very stabilizi ng force in the administration. George Pennington as well. And, and, George was probably as good a Chief of Staff as, as you could find. He, he George was the kind of guy that he, he earned your respect, and he earned your trust. And sometimes, because som e of these audits would be contentious, I felt my job was to create a consensus or some support and so I was always testing the waters with Lou and George to determine, you know, what their because I ice and it continued to be contentious, Lou and George would come in the room. So I always, I developed a good rapport with them. And just to understand what, you know what the overall focus was on a daily basis. Because sometimes that agenda changed. As i t, as it would in any dynamic
9 organization just depending on, on I guess, a lot of different factors. RK: Did you get the impression sir that the City Council paid pretty close attention to your reports? LP: Oh yes. One of the things I wanted to say I wanted to say when, when the, when Sandy was on City Council, she was one of the few Council people that did get it. She understood it. She understood government, she understood at least the audit process, and, and how important it, it was towards at least reaching a level of governance within an organization that was reasonable that you could rely on the data you were getting. it and he was an excellent Councilman, and ve ry, very supportive. The time I think Lee Duncan was there for a very short period of time. But I remember dealing with Scott and I forget who else really, really stood out in terms of b eing kind of a cut above everyone and understanding what the issues were. LP: Yeah, I understand that. RK: And did he initiate or did Council more generally initiate any policy changes based upon aud its? changes for audits from Council and did get those from time to time. And, and but that was, you That was quite a few years ago. RK: [laughs]. Was there any political grandstanding? I ask that question because at the county level today there appears to be some. LP: By Council people? RK: Yeah. LP: Yeah, I think Rudy Fernandez was probably the bigger he had aspirations of, of, of higher office and, you know and I real there are some Council people that you know need to be on a need to know basis only because they, they will, they will use your political currency to their advantage. And that, that is totally detrimental to the audit process.
10 RK: Sir, when Mayor, Mayor Freedman came into office to replace Mayor Martinez, you said, I believe LP: Yes. Bob was, Bob was a nuts and bolts guy. And he, he, he wanted to stick, us to stick to more compliance and less performance measurement. And, and where, where Sandy was very interested in performance measurement as opposed although she was very interested in compliance because she wanted to make sure no rules were v iolated. But she was always very interested in performance measurement. You know, two different styles. And, and principles very, very close but definitely two different styles. And although, I have to give Martinez a lot of credit beginning of his administration, but you know, being in the position that I was in, I recognize that when he came in there he took a potential deficit of about ten million dollars and turned that thing around, so. When Sandy inherited it, it was, it was o n solid ground. And, and she would her term to me was great stewardship. Because she marshaled the, you know the building of the Convention Center, and, and that was a job that was done on time and on budget which was a rare occurrence prior to that in the City of Tampa. And you know, she was very hands on, and her staff was very her senior staff was very hands on. You know all change orders were required to come before senior staff, and it was a staff of about twelve people. And so you had twelve eyes look ing at this thing, and it was, the scrutiny was, was, was very, very tough. RK: Do I remember correctly sir, when she first took office or maybe after she was LP: Yeah, b ecause the payment of the Convention Center kicked in. You know, and you had the value in, in the city to carry that thing. So I mean, she was looking for dollars. no question. RK: Was there any point during her administration that finally she had maybe a little bit more flexibility because more revenue was coming in? LP: You I think towards the end, you know, we, we got the Aquarium done. You know things started started coming out of the doldrums, interest rates started dropping a little bit. Stock market was a little better. So you got the Aquarium which, we got the Aquarium done. If I recal l, at least the deal for the St. Pete Times Forum was in the works at that time. So that was, those things were happening. So yeah, toward the end, things started loosening up significantly. RK: Sometimes people make distinctions among mayors, they try t o classify mayors. this mayor, for example, is more development oriented, wants things coming out of the ground. Another might be more interested in social issues of various
11 types. Looking from the purview of internal auditing, could you m ake any assessment regarding Mayor Freedman? LP: I think, I think Mayor Freedman was very interested in the social issues. But she, she understood brick and mortar too. And, and if I have to, you know, if I have you say, what kind of mayor is ery responsible. And she took her responsibilities [End Tape 1, Side A] [Tape paused] LP [laughter] RK: OK sir, I think we had a little trouble with the m achine, but we were talking about development concerns on one hand and social concerns on the other. LP: I think Sandy had a very balanced approach. I think she understood the economics and how important it was for the city to, to prime the pump so to sa y from a local economic standpoint, especially during that period of time. And she was also very concerned about the social side of it. Which was her, you know, setting up her monthly go around each neighborhood and department heads, and solve problems RK: Did you have to go to any? LP: I think I went to one, only because I think they invited me to dinner to go after. But I I was m ore of, of behind the curtains background were concerns that were raised during those meetings that came back and turned into department was doing and why they were doing it to understand how we could, how the show at that time. RK: In any of your a udits did you ever, is one of the factors that you looked at, at all neighborhood impacts a particular program, whether it impacted one neighborhood more than another in any way? LP: No, that was, of course there was always an underlying contention that East Tampa a something that we were asked to quantify. We were, you know, we tried to look at what
12 the missions were of each department and then determine whether the y were accomplishing those missions. RK: And I imagine, is it true sir that one could read your evaluations and look at some other information and maybe come to some conclusions as far as neighborhood impact? Is that possible? Probably on the neighborhood programs where you know the CDB CDB funds, you know the development block grants that they had and things of that nature. But you know we were very focused on, on compliance issues and, and operational performance. RK: Did y ou actually do a compliance audit regarding CDBG? LP: I believe so. Probably that, that was probably annual. That was one of those annual, one of those ones we would do annually, because there were federal funds involved. RK: And did you work with Mr. W LP: Oh, at the time, who was it? LP: Fernando Noriega was in charge of those things at that time. RK: OK, OK. Can I just ask for your final, anything you want to say, in terms of your years with the administration? LP: Yeah, I really could not have worked for again. Very similar principles with two different styles. And you know, Martinez gave me the opportunity. And I think Mayor Freedman gave me the, allowed me to spread my win gs to have some what I would consider a very positive impact during some tough I have a great affection and for Sandy, and a great deal of respect. represent quite a few families in the Tampa Bay area. actually developing a forty unit residential condo project on North Franklin Street.
13 making here. I think I bought the building in quite a few years. RK: Thank you very much for speaking with me. I appreciate it. me.