Terre Haute Finances: Parks Revenue Poorly Monitored
It’s a nice number. It’s not a round number, of course, with that compulsively precise five cents included. Sadly, those who should know are not equally precise about what happened to the money, received as compensation for damage to evergreen trees at Rea Park.
Former city attorney Chou-il Lee, locally notorious for his role in the Powerdyne fiasco, revealed the settlement from DuPont at the August 2013 Terre Haute City Council sunshine meeting. Lee indicated that the cost of removing and replacing the trees would be less than the amount DuPont had ponied up. Interviewed by the Tribune Star after the meeting, he said, “It’s going to help the parks department tremendously for their capital projects.”
In the past couple of years, lots of mysteries have surfaced in connection with Terre Haute finances. While researching another point, I came across the DuPont settlement. I wasn’t aware of, nor could I find reporting on any tree removal related to the problem. Had the trees fallen in Rea Park, but nobody heard them?
At the September 2015 meeting of the Terre Haute Parks Board, I asked Eddie Bird, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, whether damaged trees had been removed and replaced at Rea Park.
He responded that, although they were still being monitored, the trees seem to have recovered and none had been removed.
So what happened to the money?
“Is the money still there in some kind of special account?” I asked Bird.
He said it was. This fit with reporting for the Tribune Star at the time the windfall was announced by Arthur Foulkes, who wrote that establishing a non-reverting fund was on the agenda for the next regular council meeting.
Records in the clerk’s office regarding that ordinance further cloud the situation, but the in the audit report of Terre Haute’s 2013 Budget by the State Board of Accounts, the Dupont windfall shows up (lacking, alas, its charming five cents) on page 25 in the category “Parks Project Fund.” Following that column, we see $222, 635 was disbursed as “Other Services and Charges” and $29,733 as “Capital Outlay.”
Over a million dollars arrived in a tidy pile in August 2013, and by December 2013, a quarter of it was swept off, who knows where.
In the case of a non-reverting fund, board approval would have been required to spend any portion of the amount. However, it seems that Bird and the board either don’t know, or don’t want the public to know, that some of this money has been spent. Neither possibility bodes well for the fiscal health of our parks – one of the first features Terre Haute boosters bring up to tout the quality of local life.
Maybe there’s a third possibility; Bird and the board just don’t remember. I appeared uninvited at the September meeting and asked unexpected questions about an old account. Oddly, no one said they needed to check the minutes of previous meetings to refresh their memories, which would have been a sensible response.
Without detailed records, it’s easy to sweep financial issues under the rug.
Earlier in the September 2015 Parks Board meeting, Bird was asked by Board President Michael Webster to report on the RibFest that had been recently held by Terre Haute Parks and Recreation.
“We did real good on that,” Bird replied. “And that’s all I’m going to say.”
No report on expenditures or revenues or attendance. None asked for.