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Front Page » Top Stories » Audit Management Absent From Art In Public Places Program

Audit Management Absent From Art In Public Places Program

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Written by on February 14, 2008

By Lou Ortiz
An audit that points to a number of questionable practices in Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places program amounts to "negligence to the point of being criminal," Commissioner Sally A. Heyman said.

"It’s horrible," Ms. Heyman said about the audit, which she requested last spring and whose findings were released last week. "It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that things don’t add up."

Ms. Heyman has asked that the county commission review the findings, instead of the report going to committee.

The review done by the county’s Audit and Management Services Department found numerous questionable practices, including negligence and mismanagement.

Oversight of the program was turned over in 2007 to the county’s Department of Cultural Affairs and its director, Michael Spring.

Mr. Spring’s department "has already begun addressing many of the audit findings," County Manager George M. Burgess said in a memo last week to Mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commissioners.

Mr. Burgess added that Mr. Spring "has provided a preliminary audit response and plans to issue a more comprehensive reply in 30 to 60 days."

The 21-page report noted that between January 2000 and September 2007, the program contracted for 41 pieces of art, totaling $21.6 million, without compensation guidelines.

"It is ill-advised to procure expensive artwork without consideration of long-term maintenance costs," the audit said.

Program officials also undervalued the collection by $11.9 million and overstated the number of pieces by 74. The collection includes 630 artworks, with a value of $28.2 million.

The program’s failures also included not documenting the entire collection, not maintaining or repairing the artwork, and not providing adequate security safeguards against theft for pieces being publicly displayed.

For example, on architectural artwork no serial or inventory numbers are listed, "heightening risk of theft or misidentification," the audit said.

The program was created by county ordinance in 1973 and a 15-member board of trustees — each of whom is appointed to three-year terms — was given control of the program, while the commission retained final oversight in financial, artwork acquisition and other matterso.

In addition, an 11-member Professional Advisory Committee was appointed by trustees, each to serve two-year terms, to provide expertise in art and architecture, screen potential art buys and make recommendations to trustees. They are paid $500 a day plus expenses when their services are used.

But program trustees have not done their jobs, the audit said.

Trustees "have not effectively discharged their responsibilities," according to the findings, because they failed to implement effective program administration, sound financial management and did not come up with a master plan to achieve program goals.

Commissioner Heyman said the program’s master plan was last updated in 1984, and no records of meetings exist since 2000.

When auditors sought documentation for administrative and operational guidelines for the program from trustees, "officials stated that policies and procedures were under development, although drafts or other evidence of work in progress were not available for our review," the audit said.

"The mayor and BCC [county commission] must revisit the effectiveness of the Trust and its appointments," the report said.

The ineffectiveness of the program extended to 13 pieces of art that cost $12.6 million and were not included in inventory records. One of the pieces, by artist Carlos Betancourt, cost $455,886.

The audit also said that 87 items valued at $94,780 could not be found — including one which cost $50,000 — and they have been missing since 1999. One piece reported stolen was found in a storage room.

"Many of these practices do not accord with generally accepted accounting principles," the auditors said. "More importantly, Art in Public Places has not regularly inventoried or inspected its artwork and field observations revealed inattentiveness to maintaining these valuables."

Auditors also found artwork gathering dust and racking up storage fees of more than $24,000.

Some of the artwork "which cost thousands of dollars may be suitable for display and should be removed from storage," the audit said.

The findings also noted that 24% of the program’s collection was in need of maintenance or repair.

The 18-piece Blue Stones sculpture at the Earlington Heights Metrorail Station, which cost $29,000, is "rain-damaged, scratched, and stained with graffiti and mud," the audit said.

More expensive artwork has also been damaged. They include Afromatic, a wrought iron gate and fence topped with 180 colored panels at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, which cost $190,635.

The piece "is defaced with graffiti and covered with rust and chipped paint."

A third example identified by auditors is Keystone Island, an outdoor limestone pond which cost $262,527, and is located at the North Dade Justice Center. The piece "is covered with algae and weeds.

Other artwork at Miami International Airport, totaling more than $5 million, is also in need of maintenance, the audit said.

The program had $3.6 million in its bank account last year, the report said, but none of the money was used to maintain or repair 46 pieces that were damaged or had deteriorated.

Questionable management practices uncovered by the audit include where art is publicly displayed and the program’s dealings with artists.

One piece of art that cost the program $400,000 was installed at Miami International in a place "without appropriate consideration of the facility’s Master Plan," the audit said.

The artwork had to be removed because of improvements being made at the airport, but program trustees ended up destroying the artwork between 2003 and 2004 because the artist felt the piece was site-specific. The artist was paid $24,418 to come up with a plan to remove the piece that was later rejected, and then hired to do another project for $900,000.

Auditors said the destruction of the piece "was inappropriate, absent consultation with higher authorities and violated established county policy."

The new project awarded to the artist, the audit found, was not done "in a competitive manner, in further violation of county rules."

Regulations to initiative a project require that program officials issue a "Call to Artists," specifying conceptual guidelines, the audit said. Following a review, the top three artists then submit proposals and one is chosen to produce and install the piece.

The 1973 ordinance establishing the program also mandated that 1.5% of money designated for new county buildings and expansion projects would be earmarked to help fund the program.

But the audit found that the program is owed more than $570,000 because "calculations were based inappropriately on construction estimates, rather than actual award amounts."

"To their credit, [program] officials have long expressed their concerns regarding these inequities."

The audit concluded that the mayor and county commission "should be provided annual reports regarding the strategic direction of the program and major accomplishments, including significant artwork acquisitions."

Ms. Heyman said she has more questions. "I think this is bigger than one person," she said. "Who had control of this to allow this to go on for years? It’s one thing after another."