Former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel continues to voice his displeasure over the political back-and-forth when it comes to the Ford Center.
Just last week, Weinzapfel broke his silence in a public message for City Councilman John Friend.
It was in response to a State Board of Accounts audit of the Ford Center project.
The audit revealed nearly a dozen examples of double payments to contractors during construction.
Today Weinzapfel again defends his administration -- notably mentioning the Ford Center.
is Weinzapfel's letter in it's entirety.
I received a number of very positive comments in response to my recent commentary on the current discussions in city government. Some of the feedback I received leads me to try and further explain the specifics of the State Board of Accounts report regarding the Ford Center.
On June 7, the City released a State Board of Accounts report reviewing the capital expenditures associated with the construction of the Ford Center. There were several inaccuracies in the report and lot of bluster following its release. I want to clear up some misconceptions.
Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and City Controller Russ Lloyd, Jr. were right about several aspects of the report. The Ford Center was completed on time and under-budget. The State Board of Accounts asserted that the project was over-budget, but it failed to include $1.3 million in funds left over from the project and count the double payments made by the bond trustee to contractors in making its conclusion. Furthermore, the State Board of Accounts itself says that $5.8 million which is attributed to the purchase of the former Executive Inn property should be allocated to the hotel project instead of the arena project. Once you take this into account, it appears that the arena project was at least $7.5 million under budget.
The other issue cited by the State Board of Accounts was the bond trustee's overpayments to vendors and contractors who worked on the Ford Center. The City, working through its bond trustee, is currently seeking repayment.
Many people do not understand the role of the bond trustee. The bond trustee is put in place to operate "independently" of the city. Typically, it is a bank trust department and its job is to make sure that you have an independent financial firm monitoring the income and expenses, paying the bills and generally assuming management of the accounting and financial aspects of a project of this magnitude. You don't manage the bond trustee. Instead, once a project is complete, the City should audit the bond trustee's activities to make sure all funds were handled correctly and professionally.
Consequently, contrary to statements made, at no place in the State Board of Accounts report does it state that the City's oversight of the project and its bond trustee was insufficient. So, any calls for enhanced oversight should be scrutinized closely.
With a project the size of the Ford Center, there will be errors made by the bond trustee. This is inevitable. However, these errors are generally found by the bond trustee or found during the audit process and then corrected. This is in fact what happened here. There were some overpayments and accounting errors made by the bond trustee, however, with the process that was set in place, these matters were found and corrected. This is how it should work.
We have heard that there needs to be greater supervision of the bond trustee. This assertion undercuts the independence of the bond trustee. Furthermore, how would the city actually supervise a bank's trust department? Again, the proper approach would be to audit the project and bond trustee's activities when the project is complete.
Some have suggested that in the future the City should hire an owner's representative whose role would be to focus on project finances and provide monthly reports to both the Administration and City Council. I agree. However, this is nothing new. That is exactly the role that John Kish played in managing the construction of the Ford Center. Kish has a long history of managing major projects and was hired to represent the City's best interests.
Others have stated that some problems were caused because the Redevelopment Commission and the Redevelopment Authority did not know what the other was doing. Frankly, this is simply untrue. These two bodies played different yet complementary roles as facilitators of the project and its financing. They shared the same staff at the City's Department of Metropolitan Development. Kish would take decisions made by one to be reviewed and approved by the other. It is very clear that the project was appropraiately coordinated betwen the two bodies because the work was handled by the same staff.
Additionally, others have said that the State Board of Accounts report demonstrates that there needs to be an internal auditor to review these transactions and report back to the city council on a regular basis. As stated above, the proper time to review the work of the bond trustee is when the project is completed. Furthermore, if city staff is not managing a project well, then replace them or get them some help. Adding an internal auditor that reports to the City Council is simply an effort to usurp the responsibilities of the executive branch of city government.
The Ford Center was a high profile project, the largest that the City has ever undertaken. It should be highly scrutinized. However, city officials should be careful with their rhetoric and chest thumping. At every level of government, citizens are rightfully calling for public officials to operate with civility and honesty, and they rightfully are tired of the type of political posturing they have witnessed of late. It is time for all officials to rise to the public's expectations, and it can start right here with our own city government.
I recently heard a public official state that you don't get things accomplished in government by shaking your fist. Instead, you roll up your sleeves and find a way to work together to get the job done. Isn't this what really needs to be happening right now?