Wright pledges to do better

Stadium Authority is pummeled in Annapolis

Lively hearing after an audit

Oversight faulted, as are bidding, rent collections

February 26, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS - The chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority promised legislators yesterday that his agency will do a better job of managing construction-project bidding and improve its performance in a variety of other areas.

That pledge came after legislators battered the authority's senior leaders over findings in a state audit that showed inadequate board oversight, conflict of interest, shortcuts in competitive bidding and failure to calculate rent due to the state.

Authority Chairman Carl A.J. Wright said he had decided that the authority should create its own set of regulations for procurement because it is not subject to the state's standard procurement rules.

"I do not want to give up any flexibility if the governor or the legislators ask us to do something," Wright said yesterday during a hearing of a House subcommittee on education and economic development.

"That said, I do think there is room for us to be fair and competitive in our process. I think we can put together procurement processes that would be acceptable to this board and to the authority."

Wright's concession on the procurement practices followed sharp words from Del. Norman H. Conway, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

"I have to be honest and say that I've always felt good about the Stadium Authority and what they've been able to do and the credibility they've been able to establish," said Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat. "It bothers me as the chairman [of the House Appropriations Committee] to receive a report like this."

Conway said the allegations in the audit report demanded detailed responses.

"This committee will expect that," he told the stadium authority leaders.

Wright later told the legislators: "The one thing I was kind of hard-headed about was the procurement. I'm going to try to meet the auditors halfway and put together a fair and honest procurement process."

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat from Howard County who is vice chairman of the subcommittee, also was particularly troubled by the authority's seeming lack of a competitive bidding process. "That's the big problem," Turner said. "We have people saying, we can't participate. We can't get in the door, and then you see no procurement. I find this amazing. It's like nobody is accountable."

The legislators were also surprised by the stadium authority's apparent lack of attention to rent due the state.

"I rent property out, and I certainly know how much I'm supposed to get," said Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, a committee member who is a Republican from Baltimore County and Carroll County. "I just don't understand how you operate. It just boggles my mind."

Stadium authority officials had said in their response to the auditors that there wasn't any rent due in the past.

"There never has been any money to date, because we have always been in the hole," Stadium Authority Executive Director Richard W. Slosson told the legislators yesterday.

"But you can get a bonus?" Stocksdale quipped in response.

Legislators also were not happy about backdating of documents to explain a $15,000 bonus awarded to Slosson.

"I've always had great concern over people backdating documents," Turner said. "It goes to character to me."

Former authority Chairman John Brown III said in an interview on Tuesday that he had drafted two letters to explain past actions and that the date on one of them was a typo by a secretary that slipped through and that the other was dated with the month and year that Slosson's bonus had been awarded.

"With all due respect to the audit committee, it's a lot to do about nothing," he said in the interview. "I was trying to get everything clean so Carl wouldn't have any question about how we were doing things. There were no documents fabricated. In reality, neither memo had to be done."

Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. , a Montgomery County Democrat who sits on the subcommittee, questioned whether the auditors had any indication that the Board of Public Works, which signs off on at least some of the stadium authority's projects, might have been misled into thinking there had been competitive bids when there had not.

"The agenda items say competitively bid," said Phyllis M. Clancy, one of the auditors. "I guess the inference would be that there were."

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