Originally created 05/30/97

Tighten up on grants

Sometimes it is tempting to think a benevolent medieval king or a savvy dictator could do a far better job of distributing or denying money to all of the extended hands that come before the Augusta Commission.

The mayor and commissioners have sure botched matters in this area.

It's unfortunate that -- amid all the good reforms, ideas and strategies since Administrator Randy Oliver was hired to handle day-to-day government operations -- Mayor Larry Sconyers and commissioners continue to generate a big public relations embarrassment over the unaccounted-for $50,000 handout to River Race Augusta.

This flap led to an audit of grants to local agencies that receive millions of dollars annually from taxpayers. The auditor's conclusion? The system of oversight and documentation, as CPA Kip Plowman put it charitably, is "unsatisfactory."

As part of its normal 1996 budget, the city ladled out $8.6 million to various charities, arts and community groups. Yet Plowman glumly concludes many groups are given money without accountability and the use is "just not clear when things are not documented." (How come Sconyers or Finance Committee members didn't realize this, and speak out last year?)

To Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Brigham's credit, though, his committee has made recent, positive moves to close loopholes like the River Race debacle. But Brigham says it still boils down to people wanting to follow the new procedures.

Maybe that's where Oliver can ride to the rescue (as if he doesn't have enough fires to put out). The administrator and Comptroller Butch McKie must work to ensure that a tighter rein is kept on grant distribution and documentation.


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