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Mayor vows to finish Denton Parks Foundation investigation

Denton Mayor Chris Watts pledged Wednesday that an investigation into the Denton Parks Foundation finances will move forward, even though the city's auditor who was conducting the probe resigned this week. 

The Denton City Council could hire an auditing firm to pick up the investigation or could direct existing city staff to do it, Watts said. 

"We're not going to wait until we hire a new internal auditor," he said. "We need to finish it." 

City Auditor Craig Hametner resigned unexpectedly Monday after eight months on the job. He was looking into anonymous complaints about parks foundation operations received on the city's new fraud, waste and abuse hotline. 

Deputy City Manager Bryan Langley requested the foundation's cooperation for a full investigation. Foundation officials agreed and suspended the group's fundraising Oct. 4.

The foundation is a 30-year-old nonprofit group that raises money for parks programs and serves as a nonprofit umbrella for some parks festivals and the Denton Senior Center. That means, for example, the foundation can receive tax-deductible donations and make expenditures on behalf of volunteers holding events in city parks. Denton's annual Cinco de Mayo celebration is one example.

Hametner briefed the City Council behind closed doors for two hours about the status of the investigation on Tuesday, Oct. 10.  He resigned abruptly and without explanation six days later. On Monday, he wrote to council members, "Effective immediately, I am taking retirement; therefore I am resigning from my position as City Auditor." 

Denton Mayor Chris Watts
Denton Mayor Chris Watts

Watts declined to offer specific information from Hametner's briefing, including what activities the investigation may be focused upon. No one has said publicly whether the investigation is looking into poor accounting practices, missing money or something else altogether. 

"It's important that we finish in an environment that allows the investigation to be objective and independent," Watts said.

He hoped the investigation would be finished sooner, rather than later, "but not at the expense of accuracy in the final report," he said. 

The City Council, the foundation and the community need to be able to rely on the final report from the investigation and see it as credible, he said. 

"We're going to do what we need to do to get the confidence of the community that we are managing their resources in a way that maximizes the services we provide," Watts added. 

Watts said he expects Hametner's departure, the status of the investigation and the appointment of a new auditor will be part of the City Council agenda next Tuesday. 

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. 

FEATURED PHOTO: Visitors view the Tom "Pops" Carter sculpture during North Texas Giving Day on Thursday at the Denton County Courthouse on the Square, as the Denton Parks Foundation began accepting donations to repair or replace the sculpture after it was vandalized in September.
Jeff Woo/DRC