Inside investigation into cash spent on Panama Metropolis Seaside park

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida (WJHG / WECP) – Improvements to a park in Panama City Beach resulted in an internal investigation by the city.

The same matter is also the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit by former Panama City Beach City manager Tony O’Rourke.

O’Rourke claims public funds have been spent to make major improvements to Popeye Park, which is privately owned. He also claims he was fired in February after raising concerns about mismanagement and abuse of public funds.

Holland and Knight law firm was hired by the city that month to conduct an internal investigation into the Popeye Park issue.

The results were announced at the city council meeting on Thursday. Summarizing the results, there was no evidence that employees knew of a property problem at the start of the park improvements.

The company continues that the park improvements are serving a public purpose; However, Holland and Knight say that part of city law has been violated when it comes to budget and procurement rules.

The law firm recommends that the city hire a pre-emptive procurement officer who has compulsory training on purchasing power and who disciplines, but does not finish, the city’s current director of parks and recreation, Jim Ponek.

Vice Mayor Geoff McConnell believes the internal investigation speaks for itself.

“It was very detailed and tedious,” said McConnell. “I think it clearly shows that the city has not violated any state or federal laws. I want to thank Holland and Knight for doing a fantastic job and being incredibly thorough. “

McConnell says he trusts current city administrator Drew Whitman to properly stop disciplining Ponek. He says a decision will be made in the next few weeks.

Holland and Knight did not investigate the circumstances and potential legal issues related to O’Rourke’s February 11 termination.

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