Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Critical report on MDHA has no teeth on unauthorized spending

I've been working my way through the 30-something page Kraft report to Metro Legal on mistakes made by MDHA in its work on behalf of the Mayor's convention center and rather than write a long reflection, I'm going to respond to the bits and pieces that stand out as I go along.

The first thing that leaps from the page is the irony between Kraft advisors' criticism of MDHA acting without approval of its board and the reality that the MDHA board has unanimously rubber stamped every administrative proposal that I've looked at since 2002. Getting board approval has proved to be an empty formality at MDHA.

Kraft's criticism is that there were some instances when changes were made to contracts in excess of $50,000 and one occurrence where over $100,000 was committed without board approval. Ethically and legally this is problematic and I appreciate Kraft's criticism. But practically, when the MDHA board always goes along with MDHA administrators, why does getting approval matter? Would MDHA administrators really have met their ethical obligations simply by getting one more handful of rubber stamps from the board? I think not. The larger problem is that MDHA board approval is effectively an afterthought on every occasion in the Phil Ryan era.

So, read between the Director's lines when he tells the Tennessean that Kraft interprets the operation of his agency differently than MDHA administrators and board do. The fix is in at MDHA while debate and independent scrutiny don't figure into the housing authority's equations. The board is merely an auxiliary appendage of the MDHA administration. For their own inexplicable reasons, two Mayors have chosen not to appoint board members willing to rock the boat at MDHA since Phil Ryan became Director.

In the past, I've reported the perception of other outside analysts that MDHA operates as an empire, beholden to no one. As important as divulging financial obligations to an agency board are, it pales in comparison to establishing and cultivating a system where dissent and debate are obvious habits. Since real dissent and debate never occur on the MDHA board, Kraft's criticism at this point pulls up lame.

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