Friday, May 23, 2008

FOIA Friday - May 23, 2008

I've been tracking the spending on the new Lucas County arena project and have written about the money the project will get from the state's capital budget. That money is administered by the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission (OCFC).

Currently, there is about $5 million reserved for the project, but it has not yet been distributed to the county. The new capital budget includes another $2.2 million. The combined amount is considerably less than the $12.25 million the original arena budget called for, leaving the project over budget (due to increased costs) and underfunded.

I've been able to do this tracking because of Ohio's public records law - the state equivalent to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

But it isn't just the money. Through requests for public records, I've been able to learn about the process the state uses for actually disbursing the funds and it appears there are many hoops for the county to jump through before the money will be released.

According to what I've learned about the arena project from OCFC staff:

After a successful review of the project and the determination that the project meets all of the various requirements, laws and guidelines, Commission staff would recommend that the project be placed on a Commission meeting agenda for the Commission’s consideration.

At this time, the arena project is tentatively planned to appear on the Commission’s July meeting agenda for consideration to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This is, in essence, only a preliminary, partial approval from the Commission. It would not be a full approval, and no expenditure of funds would result from entering into a Memorandum of Understanding.

The Commission utilizes Memorandum of Understanding agreements to provide preliminary approval of projects in instances where the Commission is able to make one or more, but not all, of the required determinations that result in a project’s full approval. The MOU agreement for the Ice Arena project would confirm the Commission’s preliminary approval by determining that there is a need for the project in the community, and the MOU would document the specific additional steps needed for final Commission approval for release of the state bond funds. The agreement is used to provide assurances to the parties involved and establish clarity regarding expectations on both the Commission’s and the local sponsor’s part.

Upon completion of the steps outlined in the MOU, the project would be in a position to receive final approval from the Commission.

Once the MOU is scheduled for a vote of the OCFC, it is a public record and will be available for viewing. I'll continue to check on this and will share with you the information I receive. We'll then be able to track the steps they've identified to see if and when those steps are completed. We'll also be able to see a completed financial plan and will know if the County Commissioners are keeping their word that the arena will 'pay for itself' and not use any public monies other than the hotel/motel tax.

Stay tuned....

Other FOIA posts from around the 'net:

Real Debate Wisconsin follows up on the leased cars for Congress to see if Wisconsin reps are letting taxpayers cover the cost of their vehicles.

Friday FOIA Fun: Intelligence

Jim Thompson's expense report

Wisconsin Sunbeam - should be a regular read for anyone interested in open records.

Sunshine Review and WikiFOIA - great web resources for public information.

Robert Mullins: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week from State Sunshine and Open Records blog which also does a Tuesday Open Records links round-up

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