Audit of Oklahoma City's American Indian Cultural Center shows board selected most expensive options

An audit released Wednesday does not show any wrongdoing or misspending on behalf of the board overseeing the unfinished and unfunded American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Modified: October 17, 2012 at 9:43 pm •  Published: October 17, 2012

Anderson said the report vindicates critics of further debt financing for the project.

“This project is the epitome of government waste and demonstrates how easy it is for government officials to spend other people's money without regard to cost,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “The leadership of this project has failed miserably and their failure certainly does not deserve to be rewarded with additional state funding.”

‘World class' facility

In August 2004 the agency board — composed of six voting appointed members and five nonvoting ex officio members — approved a $136.1 million “Vision Plan” for the project over an $85.3 million “Preferred Plan.”

At the time the board had less than 25 percent of the funding secured needed to implement the Vision Plan.

“The use of public funds for the project should have warranted a more responsible view of expenditures, one in which the Board supplies its contractors with a set budget and asks what options are available within that budget,” according to the audit.

Instead the board adopted a policy of creating a “world class” facility, which became synonymous with the most expensive, the audit found.

Wade said he cannot fault the board for selecting the visionary plan.

“That was what their mandate was,” Wade said. “That was what they were supposed to do. I would rather have a world-class facility.”

By building things to Smithsonian Museum standards, Wade said, the museum someday will be able to attract Smithsonian exhibits and other traveling exhibits that have strict standards for climate control and other variables.

Among the costs criticized by the audit was $18.7 million paid to consultants from 2003 to 2012, including architecture firms, project managers, geotechnical consultants, attorneys, design developers and institutional planning services.

The large number of contractors was necessary, Auditor Gary Jones said, because of the inexperience of the board and staff members.

“They seemed to want to hire the most expensive consultants overall,” he said.

Recommendations

The state audit lays out a number of recommendations and options for the state agency.

The recommendations are that the state agency:

• Develop a comprehensive budget that is readily available to stakeholders.

• Enhance legislative oversight by making it an independent agency directly accountable to lawmakers.

• Modify board membership to provide more qualified members and reinstate the voting rights of ex officio members of the board.

• Ensure there are different board members overseeing the state agency than are overseeing a nonprofit operating in conjunction with the state to avoid conflicting with open meetings laws and the appearance of impropriety.

• Develop a realistic business operating plan.


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