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Stadium agency grilled again


ANNAPOLIS - Legislators grilled leaders of the Maryland Stadium Authority for a second day yesterday demanding that they do better because of an audit that showed sloppy accounting and raised ethical questions.

"I think the Stadium Authority has enjoyed a tremendous amount of respect from the legislature over the years, because you've done a good job," said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat. "You've brought the projects in on time. This is a serious audit. In the 10 years I've been here, this is one of the more serious audits."

Hogan, chairman of the legislative subcommittee that heard the matter yesterday, said the timing of the unsatisfactory audit could not have been worse, given the interest in expanding the Stadium Authority's reach to handle school construction and to build facilities for slot machines, should they be approved.

Stadium Authority Chairman Carl A.J. Wright assured the legislators that he had instituted immediate changes upon taking over as chairman nearly a year ago, including giving back to the board the authority for raises and bonuses, which had previously rested solely with the chairman. He also now requires face-to-face board meetings rather than the conference-call version that had become commonplace for the authority.

"I believe that the honest handling of public funds is job one, in fact and in appearance," he said.

He also reiterated a pledge he had made to another group of legislators Wednesday to make sure the process for awarding contracts is fair and competitive.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, said even if no laws were broken, the appearance is not good.

"I know going forward you're going to tighten these things up," he said. "It is embarrassing. ... In the city of Baltimore you've made us proud. You just need to tighten this up."

The unusual circumstances of $66 million in bids identified by auditors as a problem fuels a perception of unfairness in the handling of bids in Maryland, McFadden noted.

Repeatedly, he said, the message he hears is "We're locked out. It's always the big boys. It's always the insiders."

"That's the public perception," he said.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican representing Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties, was concerned about the gifts accepted by Executive Director Richard W. Slosson in the form of hospitality, and the $66 million in contracts that the audit indicated were not advertised.

"We have always had great respect for this authority," Stoltzfus said. "It kind of blows me away to read this. Sixty-six million dollars that wasn't bid - that to me is breaking the law. The whole thing doesn't smell good. I think there are some laws broken here and, frankly, I'm highly disappointed."

Stadium Authority officials have said that the $41.5 million construction contract for the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore was advertised initially, but when the project ran into cost overruns, there wasn't time to go through the process again.

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