Meeting on forensic audit canceled

An audit searching for illegal activity associated with Augusta’s Trade, Exhibit and Event Center parking deck project will be delayed further after the city failed to notify the public of a meeting Wednesday on the audit’s scope.

Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett, the chairman of the subcommittee assigned to the task, said he asked about the meeting, planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday, and learned “it would have been an illegal meeting” because no advance notice was sent to area media outlets.

The meeting has not been rescheduled, but Lockett said he will raise the issue at a committee meeting Monday.

The commission authorized seeking a forensic audit last year after learning that the city did not own the land on which it built a parking deck and that the land beneath was partial collateral for a loan taken out by landowner 933 Broad LLC.

The creative arrangement served the purpose of allowing the city to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds to build the deck, while permitting 933 Broad to retain a bottom floor of parking spaces, according to Jim Plunkett, the special city counsel who handled much of the associated deal making.

933 Broad, which has ties to the management of The Augusta Chronicle owner Morris Communications Corp., agreed to transfer the land to Augusta Land Bank Authority, but the commission continued to question aspects of the deal and in December voted 6-3 to have an external forensic auditor to take a look.

Twenty firms from across the country have downloaded copies of the city procurement office’s January request for proposals for an auditor to “identify and quantify any abnormal financial activity past or present of the funds of the Augusta, Georgia Municipal Government TEE Center Parking Garage/Land Acquisition/Associated Leases/Financing,” stated government bid site Demandstar.

Though many have responded, the procurement office remains uncertain about the scope of the audit, which will be a key component in its price, City Administrator Fred Russell said in calling for additional guidance from the commission.

Russell wouldn’t serve on the subcommittee because the audit deals with his actions, he said.

The procurement office has moved the bid-opening date twice: on Feb. 27, when it moved the date to April 19, and on April 3, when it moved the date to May 31, according to bid documents.

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