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Anchorage Assembly approves money for unpaid Centennial bills

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 22, 2015

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night approved $69,000 to pay for cost overruns related to the city's Centennial celebration.

In a recent review of Centennial finances, internal auditor Michael Chadwick discovered a number of unpaid bills and not enough money to pay them. Chadwick's review faulted bad records management and poor supervision of Centennial money managed by former Mayor Dan Sullivan's office.

Outstanding invoices for the Centennial, which culminated in July, actually totaled $95,622, according to Chadwick's review, but other revenues erased some of the debt. In recent interviews, Sullivan and Centennial coordinator Susan Duck said they had counted on revenues from Centennial merchandise to cover the remaining invoices.

But the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says those revenues haven't materialized and officials asked Chadwick for a review after vendors started contacting the city to ask about unpaid invoices.

Vendors still owed money by the city include the Alaska Railroad, which gave train rides to second-graders in April, and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, which organized a June solstice concert. Earlier this month, Assembly members delayed a decision on whether to appropriate the money, with several saying they wanted to see the invoices first.

By Tuesday, Assembly members said they were comfortable making the appropriation, which brought the total amount of city money allocated to the Centennial project to more than $900,000 and went beyond previous appropriations. A substantial amount of private money, from groups such as the Rasmuson Foundation, was also spent on the project.

In his review, Chadwick focused on a pool of money managed by coordinator Duck and the mayor's office, and not a separate grant program administered by the Alaska Humanities Forum. In April, while managing Centennial expenses and revenues for the mayor's office, Duck became a private contractor in August for Visit Anchorage, with her position paid for by a grant from the mayor's office. She started using a private business account, outside city controls, to handle the money at that time, which Chadwick said lacked transparency and made public money more difficult to track.

Assembly member and audit committee chair Bill Starr had previously suggested a forensic audit, which could provide a basis to prosecute fraud, embezzlement or other financial claims. At an audit committee meeting last week, Chadwick said that process would be very costly and there's nothing to indicate fraud occurred.

"Just bad management of the records," he said.

Starr said he instead would direct the firm conducting the city's annual external audit to expand its focus to Centennial finances. That audit will be fully underway by mid-February.

Before the vote Tuesday -- unanimous, with Patrick Flynn absent -- Assembly member Amy Demboski said there were still "multiple issues" relating to Centennial finances. She specifically mentioned the apparent overpayment of nearly $20,000 to one vendor in Chadwick's review, an issue Chadwick said Tuesday has still not been resolved.

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