Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Buie Fiasco

Finally.

Mr. Buie has been terminated as downtown manager. I only wish it had come sooner. The negative effects of his tenure will be endured for years to come. As many people I have spoken to over the last month have said, this has set downtown redevelopment back at least 10 years.

What went wrong?

I accept some of the blame. I sincerely thought that Mr. Buie wasn't going to be able to sneeze without the city manager knowing about it. I was wrong. Although Mr. Buie was a city employee and reported directly to the city manager (and his office was only two doors down), Mr. Buie was able to write whatever checks he wanted at ADICA without so much as a second signature.

I incorrectly assumed that ADICA had the necessary tools to carry out its mission to redevelop downtown. Part of those tools would have been bylaws that required a second signature on checks, board approval on purchases above a threshold amount, adoption of city-like purchasing policies, etc. As it turned out, it does not appear ADICA had any of that. It boggles the mind how ADICA has existed as long as it has (many years before ATI was created) without those tools, but it apparently has.

The city reserved the right to do an audit in its contract with ADICA, but the right was not exercised until fairly recently. The sooner the city did its audit, the sooner Mr. Buie's transgressions would have come to light.

Although there were valid concerns raised by city staff about interfering with the GBI's criminal investigation, the city should have investigated ADICA's books sooner. As you may have read in the Albany Herald, a check and lease allegedly went missing from a file since the city audit of ADICA's books began. One of the dangers of having multiple concurrent investigations is that one of the investigators can be blamed for missing documents, as opposed to the missing document being used to show efforts of a cover-up on the part of the alleged perpertrator. That is why I personally contacted the GBI special agent in charge last week to confirm that we would not be interfering with his investigation if we conducted our own internal audit of the facade grants. I wish I had contacted the GBI myself sooner. I was too optimistic as to when the GBI investigation would be completed. To my knowledge, it is still ongoing.

What can be done now?

We have to assess the damage. That is going to take time. I can only imagine what will be uncovered by the GBI investigation. Now that we have shut down ATI, we are still having creditors come forward complaining that ATI failed to pay them. Our records show specific payments to ATI for the specific debts, but it appears ATI never actually paid some creditors. If that has happened with ATI, there is no telling what creditors will surface against ADICA in the coming months in the wake of Mr. Buie.

We have to cooperate fully with any prosecution that might result from this situation. The decision about whether there is anything to prosecute rests solely with the district attorney.

I agree that we need to hold off on spending anymore on downtown redevelopment until public confidence can be restored. I think that restoration will only occur when we get a downtown redevelopment professional who truly DEMANDS that confidence -- someone with real estate and business savvy and impeccable ethics, someone like a Larry Walden or a Lamar Reese. Perhaps the job of bringing private investment into downtown could be done by someone local in a consultant-type capacity to ADICA. There are some fantastic oppurtunities on the table for downtown (like an ASU bookstore) that need to be capitalized on before they disappear forever. We've got to find the RIGHT person soon, or we will find ourselves 20 years behind on downtown redevelopment.

The city has to provide the necessary support for ADICA to right its ship. City staff is going to have to help ADICA write or adopt appropriate safeguards and policies.

I have asked Phil Cannon of ADICA to consider having ADICA enter into an agreement with the city whereby the city manager would have to counter-sign every check written from ADICA accounts, and approve every ADICA expenditure. This would NOT allow the city commission itself to stick its nose into every ADICA matter, but it would require the city manager to be accountable for every expenditure ADICA makes. That type of accountability was what sold me on the city/ADICA model for downtown development over the city/ADICA/ATI model in the first place.

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