Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Audit AY? Probably not this comptroller

An article published Friday on the front of the New York Times Metro section, headlined City Wasted Millions on Bronx Golf Project, Audit Says, reported:
The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation paid nearly $6 million more than it should have to a company that was supposed to develop a Bronx golf course, and lost out on millions more because of poor management of the project, according to an audit released yesterday.

The parks department disputed the findings in the audit, by the city’s comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr. [right], and said it contained many factual errors.


Vs. AY costs

The audit stated that "the City overpaid the concessionaire almost $6 million and lost more than $3 million in revenue from forgone license fees." There's more, but let's call it $9 million in losses.

Much bigger costs out there are also worthy of scrutiny. The cost to the city for policing the new Atlantic Yards arena would pose significant new costs not acknowledged by the developer and ignored--as with other public costs--by the Empire State Development Corporation.

But those are projections, too early for an audit.

Big news?

Still, why might a story of relatively small losses get such prominent play while the Times for weeks passed on the story that the city had more than doubled its contribution to Atlantic Yards? (Here's the Times's belated follow-up.)

Maybe it was that the comptroller issued a report. Conventions of journalism often lead news outlets to limit themselves to official sources. It's tougher for reporters to draw their own conclusions.

The comptroller's responsibility

The comptroller's job description notes:
The mission of the office is to ensure the financial health of New York City by advising the Mayor, the City Council, and the public of the City's financial condition. The Comptroller also makes recommendations on City programs and operations, fiscal policies, and financial transactions.

While the Independent Budget Office has done its own reasonably detailed (though still incomplete) cost-benefit study of Atlantic Yards, the question remains: would Thompson ever audit Atlantic Yards expenditures to advise the public "of the City's financial condition"?

It's too early for an audit, most likely, but Thompson isn't exactly in a position to scrutinize Atlantic Yards carefully. He has already signed on as a project supporter.

His cheerleading letter, citing jobs and revenues without acknowledging costs, appears as part of a document filed in the challenge to the Atlantic Yards environmental review. (Click to enlarge.) Did campaign contributions to Thompson from friends and relatives of Bruce Ratner play a part?

Thompson is a likely mayoral candidate and is well connected to various political machines, as the Village Voice has pointed out. Is Atlantic Yards even on his radar beyond a potential ribbon-cutting opportunity?

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