Once again the battle between Allegheny County Controller and the City-County owned Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) has bubbled to the surface. She seeks the right to audit the Authority’s performance, particularly the practice of giving out free tickets to venues they own. They say it isn’t under her jurisdiction. She hasn’t been deterred and the SEA is asking an Allegheny County judge to stop an audit.
More than likely the SEA will succeed. As we had written earlier this year (Policy Brief Volume 15, Number 4) the law authorizing the SEA (Act 85 of 2000), states that as long as the Authority has a certified public accountant examine its books, accounts, and records annually then they fulfill their public obligation. If they fail to do so, “then the controller, auditors, or accountant designated by the county or city is hereby authorized and empowered from time to time to examine at the expense of the Authority, the accounts and books of the Authority, including its receipts, disbursements, contracts, leases, sinking funds, investments and any other matters relating to its finances, operations and affairs. The Attorney General shall have the right to examine the books, accounts, and records of any Authority.”
That is correct—the Attorney General has the right to do an audit as specified in the law creating the SEA. Not the Auditor General, whose office has expertise in such matters. The Attorney General is currently too embroiled in her own scandal to care about a ticket giveaway program at the SEA. Furthermore as the State’s top law enforcement officer, she lacks the skills to do such an audit. This was done deliberately by the authors of the law to limit governmental scrutiny of the SEA.
But the remedy is quite easy. The Legislature can simply pass a one sentence amendment to Act 85 to enable the County Controller the right to audit. They can change it to give the County controller the right to do the audit. If the Authority is operating above board, they shouldn’t care who does the audit. The awarding of tickets to events at SEA venues has the look of buying favors or rewarding past support. The public has a right to know whether this entity is operating properly. This is especially true since the public provided a large portion of the funds the SEA used to build its facilities.