A stadium scolding

Auditors slam Md. authority for poor management

Auditors scold Md. Stadium Authority

February 22, 2007|By Laura McCandlish and Mike Klingaman | Laura McCandlish and Mike Klingaman,Sun Reporters

In a scathing report released yesterday, state auditors scolded the Maryland Stadium Authority for a variety of management moves - including the payment of $42,000 for less than an hour of consulting services to a former executive director who left under an ethical cloud.

The auditors questioned why the stadium authority included the consulting deal in its severance package with former director Richard W. Slosson without tying the payment to a minimum amount of work. The authority told the auditors that Slosson performed less than an hour of work.

In other conclusions, the auditors said the state agency, which owns and operates the two stadiums in the Camden Yards complex, did not adequately pursue $1.7 million in rent the state believes is owed by the Orioles but disputed by the team.

The audit also complains that the authority failed to properly seek competitive bids on a $7.6 million building renovation - a job the agency said was legally bid and completed under budget.

The auditors also noted $282,000 in severance payments granted without proper guidelines or approval from its board. In one case, a top executive with 15 months of services received $104,000, or six months' salary, while an eight-year maintenance worker received two weeks' pay, amounting to $1,100.

Del. Norman H. Conway, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees the stadium authority's budget, said he was concerned about the audit's findings and is eager to get answers from the agency.

The stadium authority and legislative auditors are scheduled to appear before the Appropriations Committee hearing today.

"There are some key issues here, and certain items are going to have to be explained and reviewed," he said.

Conway said lawmakers take such audits seriously, particularly when they reveal a pattern of questionable practices.

"In the past, there have been issues that were raised by audits which were not addressed in the manner they should have," he said. "And there ended up being repeats. We have made it clear we don't want repeats."

An audit in 2004 revealed shortcuts in competitive bidding, conflicts of interest and unapproved bonuses paid.

In the agency's written reply to the most recent audit, which covers the period from Jan. 1, 2003, to May 31, 2006, executive director Alison L. Asti said the authority has implemented a number of the recommendations made to tighten procedures and "appreciates the opportunity to review our business practices."

Neither Asti nor authority chairman Robert L. McKinney responded to requests for comment yesterday.

Slosson resigned in March 2004, after the last audit by the Office of Legislative Audits revealed the authority had paid him a $15,000 bonus not authorized by the board and later documented by backdated memos. It also criticized him for accepting gifts from a company doing business with the state, an apparent violation of state ethics laws.

Yesterday's audit revealed that Slosson received, as part of his severance package, a consulting contract that would pay him his previous salary for 65 additional days. The contract failed, however, to specify any minimum number of hours he was to work, something the auditors said should be part of future contracts.

In the agency's reply, Asti said the severance package was negotiated by the previous authority chairman, Carl A.J. Wright, with the assistance of the state attorney general's office. At the time, Asti was general counsel to the agency. She agreed with the recommendation that guidelines should be established for severance payments.

Slosson did not respond to messages left at his home last night. At the time of his resignation, he denied any wrongdoing.

In an interview yesterday, Wright, who left the authority chairmanship in 2005, declined to discuss the consulting contract.

"I think we took every action to do every action we thought was right. The stadium authority is moving in a positive direction," Wright said.

As for the Orioles' back rent, the team has owed nearly half of the $1.7 million since 2003, according to the 20-page audit report. But when the Orioles disputed the amount of underpayments, the stadium authority allegedly backed off and has made no discernible effort to collect it, said Bruce A. Myers, the legislature's chief auditor.

The Orioles say they have paid all rent due for 2002-2003 and that they are negotiating with the stadium authority for rent owed for 2004-2005. The sides disagree on how much money the club owes for advertising signs in the ballpark. The team pays rent based on a percentage of various revenues, including stadium ads.

That dispute has become intertwined in a disagreement between the Orioles and the authority over who should pay for a new video board at Camden Yards. That argument isn't likely to be resolved until fall at the earliest.

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