A state audit covering a period of turnover in the Richland Public Facilities District criticizes some of the agency's financial practices during that time, saying it "lacked adequate internal controls to safeguard public funds."
The issues ranged from payments made without enough supporting documentation to money spent on items without a clear benefit to the district.
The audit report was published Monday. It attributes the issues to lack of knowledge of requirements by past district officials, and it notes that "all members of the staff and board have completely turned over during the audit period."
The public facilities district is developing the long-awaited Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, which is under construction now at the west end of Columbia Park and is set to open next summer.
In a response included in the audit report, the district wrote that its leaders have taken steps to address the issues.
The audit covers 2010-12.
The report says the district:
-- Paid about $1.6 million to an architect, but most of the payments weren't supported by signed contracts or change orders. "We could not determine whether the district requested or approved the work performed prior to receiving the billings," the report says.
-- Spent about $27,400 on items -- from community event sponsorships, to flowers sent to individuals, to civic group dues -- with no apparent or no identified public purpose or benefit to the district.
-- Spent about $15,200 and made $1,185 in employee reimbursements without adequate supporting documentation. Auditors also identified some reimbursements that weren't allowed under district policy, including refreshments for meetings.
Reach center CEO Lisa Toomey, who joined the project early last year, said most of the issues pre-dated 2012, including the architect payments.
They were made to the original architect -- not the one who designed the scaled-back facility that's under construction -- and fell under a contract amendment that was approved by officials but apparently never signed, Toomey said.
She also said that by spring 2012, the reach had dropped most group memberships and similar expenses as the project and budget were trimmed. She said officials are developing policies to strengthen the internal financial controls.
The community can have confidence in the reach project, Toomey said.
"The audit finding was for past actions. The project that we are managing today is not that project," she said, adding it will "serve the needs of the community and be a sustainable building."
Fred Raab, president of the district's board, added that, "We're looking forward to opening (the facility). The board has tried to be as transparent and conversant with the community as possible -- that's what we're committed to."
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald