ARLENE VIOLET – You’ve got to be kidding me

ARLENE VIOLET – You’ve got to be kidding me

The management of the Convention Center is a disgrace. Its history has been pockmarked by repeated failures to pay for itself as politicians have used it as an employment favor factory for pals. The executive director, James McCarvill, has been complicit in the shenanigans by looking the other way just as long as he gets his salary. He is now blocking The Providence Journal in its efforts to discover who is being paid and how much, despite the fact that the taxpayers gave $28.9 million last year, including a $20 million operating subsidy with the rest going to repairs.

Nothing is new about this financial drain without accountability. Five years ago, then Rep. Patricia Morgan announced the formation of a Republican Policy Group to study the various spending issues in order to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. Her effort paralleled an NBC I Team report which disclosed huge losses ($1.45 million in 2014) despite nearly $25 million a year in taxpayers’ money. The I-Team found expensive trips to Paris and Los Angeles, $1,100 dinners at restaurants, and employee perks like free parking despite the red ink (WJAR 2/23/15). Neither Ms. Morgan nor WJAR found that the authority doesn’t add some economic activity just that the Convention Center isn’t adding enough. The taxpayer burden is more than $750 million when all the outstanding debt is repaid. Yet, the convention center in Hartford was cleaning Providence’s clock by bringing in more named performers.

“Repair” estimates have been a dish of chop suey. In 2007 a consulting firm, Ellerbe Becket, had inaccurately estimated the cost of rehabilitation at $62 million. The estimate was off by 31 percent when the project ballooned to $81.4 million. The Convention Center Board didn’t have to be comprised of Mensa candidates since the fire code requirements and the accessibility provisions had been around for years and were eliminated in the original estimate. “We missed a few things” was the response of the then chairman of the board when he tried to explain why the need for sprinklers and smoke detectors were not included in the estimate.

The board cannot be relied upon to do its job. One member Teamster union official, Paul McDonald, has been on the board for a long time and his chief contribution has been to pad the payroll with family members and union honchos. Labor leader, George Nee, vice chairman of the board, once used his access to bookings at the Center to encourage a group to yank their reservations at the Biltmore Hotel which was engaged in tough union negotiations at that time with its staff. Because a new restaurant hadn’t caved in to the union position, Mr. Nee decided to bring it to its economic knees by delaying its opening by at least six months. He must have forgotten that his director position is supposed to be that of encouraging tourism.Obviously, nothing has changed. The bloated favor factory is out of control, hence it is hiding its dubious activities by hiding the payroll and expenses despite state law which makes the Convention Center subject to the Access to Public Records Act. If the Solons on Smith Hill don’t insist on an audit, it is precisely because its favor factory continues to yank the taxpayers’ chain.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.