Thursday, August 11, 2005

Where's the Money?

By way of the Freedom of Information Act the busy boys at Save Richmond have finally gotten to look at the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation’s bank accounts. To say these watchdogs have to be pleased with themselves over this development is probably an understatement along the lines of saying Boston fans were pleased when their Red Sox eliminated the New York Yankees in the playoffs last season.

For readers who’ve been following the developing story of Mayor Wilder’s peeling of the VAPAF onion, a visit to Save Richmond's web site will allow for some interesting reading. Here are excerpts of a July 29 post by Andrew Beaujon:

"VAPAF lists two accounts, a First Market Bank one that holds $759,333 and a BB&T Scott & Stringfellow account in the name of the Carpenter Center that holds $717,575, for a total of $1,476,908. We happen to think that’s laughably small for a group that:
  • Is proposing a $98 million project (that will probably cost a lot more)
  • Claims to have raised $68.8 million
  • Has spent $21 million without a single brick being laid.
VAPAF CEO Brad Armstrong
(Photo Credit: F. T. Rea)

VAPAF has a twice-monthly payroll of $38,688.50. Of that, CEO Brad Armstrong receives $11,691.50 every two weeks (excuse me while I weep on my desk). His salary, which comes to $280,000/year before benefits, accounts for 30 percent of VAPAF’s payroll. This is especially interesting since Brad has claimed in the past that “not a penny” of his salary was paid by public money. Seeing as the VAPAF has only one account to pay for both construction and staff, and it’s taken in tens of millions of dollars in public money so far, we can only speculate that VAPAF Chairman of the Board Jim Ukrop instructed the dollar bills in the foundation’s account to separate themselves from one another by provenance, in an orderly fashion. The funds are commingled, the balance is this low, and still we’re supposed to believe Brad’s outrageous compensation isn’t coming from we, the Richmond taxpayers? Puh-leeze.

Our repeated warnings that council was mistaken to allow a group with no cash to rip a hole in the most visible part of the city went unheeded. Now VAPAF depends on fancy accounting and “value engineering” in its bank accounts to stay afloat.

...And we think that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to VAPAF’s arrogance, wastefulness and ineptitude. Yeah, it would be great to have an arts center downtown. But as we asked before, why on earth are regular Richmond folks paying VAPAF to make such a mess of this dream?"

With nothing but bad news leaking out of the VAPAF, Mayor Wilder’s administration has finally pulled the plug on the whole shebang -- issuing a Stop Work Order that will keep the Carpenter Center from being ripped open for the sake of continuing to follow a fizzler of a zillion dollar plan that seems to be coming undone before our eyes. And, get this -- it turns out the VAPAF couldn't be bothered with getting a few required inspections, allowing its construction permit to expire.

Oy Vey! Is it too soon to start using the word “scam” to characterize that so-called plan?

Don't be surprised to see a SWAT team seizing VAPAF computers and such next. With all this happening in lazy August, a sun-baked month usually known for it’s lack of political news, the VAPAF may well become an interesting hot-potato issue for the local and statewide campaigns to deal with after Labor Day.

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