The search is on for an outside firm to conduct a forensic audit of the dealmaking leading up to construction of the Trade, Exhibit and Event Center parking deck.
A request for proposals issued by Augusta’s procurement department Thursday seeks bids from firms for a forensic audit to examine financial records from Jan. 2, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2011, including “examining all funding sources, expenditures and contractual obligations relating to the TEE Center parking garage/land acquisitions/associated leases/financing,” according to a copy obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.
Though a local auditor reviews the city’s books annually, a forensic auditor, if hired by the commission, will search for criminal activity and other wrongdoing.
The complex series of transactions associated with construction of the TEE parking garage – including a decision to have the deck built on privately owned land, with the exception of one small parcel, and the decision to build using air rights instead of acquiring the property outright – have been a point of contention for several commissioners since they became aware of them late last year, after the deck was completed.
The owner of the land beneath the deck, a firm called 933 Broad Street, has ties to management of Morris Communications, the owner of The Chronicle, and similar ties to Augusta Riverfront LLC, the firm that both operates the downtown Marriott and will run the TEE Center and its associated parking.
Commissioners voted 6-4 on Dec. 20 to approve a modified version of Commissioner Bill Lockett’s motion for a sweeping forensic audit of all city departments and dealings with outside firms to limit the audit to the TEE Center parking garage. Commissioners Matt Aitken, Joe Bowles, Joe Jackson and Jerry Brigham opposed the motion.
City Administrator Fred Russell has served as the point of contact between the commission and attorney Jim Plunkett, the city’s special counsel for the complex project that includes not only the TEE Center and parking deck projects but also the Augusta Richmond County Coliseum Authority’s 2010 issue of $22 million in revenue bonds to fund construction.
Russell, a former Richmond, Va., deputy chief of police, said Thursday that “obviously I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong. If we have, I’ll be surprised,” and noted that the deck had just received another award, this one from American Concrete Institute.
Questions about the process that Plunkett attempted to answer during this week’s commission finance committee meeting prompted the committee’s 2-2 divide over whether to approve a parking management agreement with Augusta Riverfront. That agreement goes before the full commission Tuesday.