March 5th, 2007 12:21 EST
The WVPT has owned up to misspending the $420,000 it was awarded for the construction of a new theater in Morgantown, and an anonymous donor has stepped forward to pay it back. This looks to the average citizen like an admission of guilt. But who is ultimately at fault? How did WVPT ever have the opportunity to spend the money in a manner other than it was intended? The possibility for misappropriation existed because there are people in office who are either lazy or oblivious, and now that the problem is out in the open they must step up and fix it. Otherwise, the people of Morgantown will be forced to find politicians who will.
Many fingers are pointed at WVPT for spending the money on operating costs. But why did the WVPT ever have the chance to do it? According to the information provided about the theater project, the structure was supposed to be completed in 2005. It’s now two years after the projected completion date, and there hasn’t even been a ground breaking ceremony. There were no alarm bells going off in meetings for two years regarding this lunacy. Why did the government not start asking questions when the project failed to come to fruition? Why did the WVPT have the money at all? Citizens entrust these matters to the people they elect to hold office because they are led to believe they are responsible, and because of that they must be held accountable. If this has happened once perhaps there have been other times where organizations have stolen huge sums of money that could be used to improve road conditions, increase pay for snow plow drivers or hire more police officers. It’s hard to say. And it is hard to believe that there are people in office who would agree to allocate funds to an organization without having a written contract –but they did.
When it comes to trust, it’s fine if it’s one person’s money. If he or she loses it because of a scam, then it only affects him or her. But when the government entrusts the money of the public to an organization by writing only a letter, the politicians have made a gamble with the money of the citizens they represent. That is also a gamble with their jobs.
It is not necessary in this instance to formally act against the WVPT except by scrutinizing all future interactions with it much more closely. But close scrutiny of spending public funds should have been done to start with. Citizens must hold the person who wrote the check responsible in this case. He or she was the one who failed the community. If the organization had not been fortunate enough to have an anonymous donor replace the money, there would have had to be a lawsuit. That would have meant time and money wasted for nothing. If there had been a written contract that held the money in an escrow account, then there would have been no chance for a loss to occur. But this never happened. The government just wrote them a check each year, and did not even ask to see where the funds were until two years after the project was scheduled to be completed.
The WVPT has stated that the project has taken longer than expected because it has been revamped. This change took place back before the scheduled completion date of the original project, and no one in the government seemed aware that the project had changed. It seems for the most part that no one even cared.
All these things aside, we have the money back, and the new project is still being prepared for which should benefit the city. However, this situation should teach us all a lesson. Do not trust the government with money.
What needs to be done in order to eliminate all possibility for this kind of incident to arise are a few things. The first and most important being that a contract must be written. Without a binding document you are asking to be ripped off. We aren’t dealing with the mob, and as such we can and must use the safeguards the law affords us. The second is that if the funds are for a specific purpose, we must ensure that they are used for that purpose and that purpose alone. This can be done by holding the funds until documents are provided showing a need for the funds that is in keeping with the use allowed as defined in the contract. Without the money, the organization can’t spend it, and the citizens of the city can’t be ripped off. The third is a systematic review, perhaps quarterly, of what the organization is spending the funds on. If the money is allotted for operational expenses, then we need to monitor how the money is spent for operations.
These three suggestions are not complicated. It may sound like a lot of work for the people in office, but if it’s too much, then they should get out. The job of a politician doesn’t end when they win the election that is when the work begins.