Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Rhodes says auditor's office could help with Reds' ballpark

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes says his office can bring more credibility to audits of the $330 million in public spending to build Great American Ball Park.

        In a Jan. 5 letter to county commissioners, Mr. Rhodes said his staff could help select a construction auditing firm, which will act as a taxpayer watchdog during the building of the Reds' new home.

        The construction auditor should report to Mr. Rhodes' office because it is separate from the Administrative Services branch of county government that will hire and pay the auditor, the letter says.

        “I believe it is critical to avoid the perception that the objectivity of audit work is compromised,” Mr. Rhodes' letter says. “This can most easily be done by having the audit work directed by an entity other than the appointed employees of the County Commission that appropriates the funds and whose employees administer the project in the first place.”

        County officials will solicit offers for construction auditing firms for the baseball stadium project in the next few weeks. Mr. Rhodes said his office could help pick the firm, defining the scope of work and monitoring progress.

        “We're uniquely qualified to do that,” Mr. Rhodes said. “Let's face it, we're taking on a heck of a lot of exposure. This won't be a walk in the park, but I'm willing to take the risk because I think we can accomplish something good for the taxpayers.

        “But if we screw it up, it'll be egg on our face.”

        County officials hired construction auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers to perform an audit of Paul Brown Stadium nearly 18 months ago, when it became apparent that the project was over budget. That report is due at the end of February. In a preliminary report last Feb. 14, PWC auditors blamed nearly everyone associated with the project for the overruns except the commissioners who hired them.

        New County Commissioner Todd Portune is expected to ask today that Mr. Rhodes' office become involved in the process at the baseball stadium.

        Mr. Portune, who defeated stadium champion Bob Bedinghaus in the November election, promised to get Mr. Rhodes' office involved during the campaign.

        “I think we need as much oversight as we can get,” Mr. Portune said. “It's important for the auditor's office to be involved because they are an independently elected body.”

        Commission President John Dowlin will not be present at today's meeting, leaving Mr. Portune and Tom Neyer to make the decision.


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