(WMC-TV) - The City of Memphis named a new deputy director for the Neighborhood Improvement Department after the completion of an internal audit.
Former deputy director Onzie O. Horne resigned in January. The audit, which began shortly before his resignation, revealed mismanagement, lack of internal controls, and a conflict of interest. Auditors determined that Horne steered work to a company that subcontracted work to Horne's son.
Nearly $500 million went to a company operated by the former director's son.
The new deputy director of the department will be Patrice Thomas, a comptroller in the city's finance division for about 10 years.
The 25 Square program, which the internal audit investigated, remains a key piece of the City's blight eradication strategy. The program aggressively targets overgrown lots has been an integral part in the city's war on blight. It was overseen by Horne until his resignation.
Chief Administrative Officer George Little hopes with new leadership it will be more effective at keeping abandoned and vacant properties clean. Little confronted Horne in January with preliminary suspicions.
"I did have a conversation with him and gave him some options," said Little. "One of the most heavily used subcontractors was a firm that his son was apparently heavily involved in."
In addition to possibly steering work to his own son, the audit found that a few contractors may have over-billed without Horne's intervention and some property owners were not properly notified before their grass was cut.
WMC Action News 5's Jason Miles spoke with Horne on the phone who had a lot to say about the audit, but nothing is on the record.
Horne previously said he needed more help managing "25 Square," which will continue to address areas 25 blocks at a time, albeit less aggressively.
"It did make a difference in the communities, but the controls weren't there," added Little.
The city will work more closely with the nonprofit "Clean Memphis" moving forward.
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