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Will forensic audit of museum lead to county financial melt down?

The Milwaukee County Board’s Committee on Finance and Audit was to meet
on Thursday, and a number of items will be discussed. But one item in particular
to focus on — aside from the cancerous deficits now afflicting the county
— will be item 06-71 on the agenda.

This item will address a resolution
submitted by Supervisor James G. White.

The resolution White is pressing
for calls on the County Board to authorize and direct the “director of audits
to issue an RFP for the purposes of retaining an external auditing firm to conduct
a forensic audit of the Milwaukee Public Museum to help better determine the causes
for the financial collapse.”

This is a significant matter, because
White is “pursuing criminal” investigation into the museum’s financial
affairs.

White states, that although the county had conducted an audit,
and that the audit was forwarded to District Attorney E. Michael McCann by County
Auditor Jerry Heer, the audit McCann is reviewing lacks details that would pinpoint
where most of the money the museum lost actually went. “The audit that Jerry
Heer gave McCann did not look for criminal activity,” said White.

Unresolved
issue

Supervisor White states that he believes there is a need to criminally
pursue what took place at the museum. “All fiscal concerns and matters that
took place before Finley came aboard have yet to be resolved,” said White.

White
wants an audit similar to the one that was able to give clear details on how convicted
and imprisoned ex-state Sen. Gary George, D-Milwaukee, was able to obtain kickbacks
from the Opportunity Industrialization Center of Greater Milwaukee. He’s
convinced a forensic audit will provide details as to whether or not criminal
dealings with museum funds did take place.

How was the money spent? Where
did the money go? Who pocketed what?

Sources at the County Board confirm
that the museum is moving toward a deficit that could cost taxpayers more than $30
million. White confirms this and states that “the County Board has no idea
how the museum actually spent the money, or for that matter what really happened
to the funds.”

Museum Director Dan Finley, in an e-mail, stated, “I
have read several times in your columns about how the museum crisis is costing
taxpayers millions of dollars. This statement is flatly false.”

Finley
goes on to state that “the museum has had its problems, to be sure, but the
only thing county government did was guarantee two loans. They expended no cash.
As long as the museum pays the bank loans, the taxpayers will pay nothing for
the crisis. For the record, the museum made its first payment on the loans two
weeks ago. We will pay off more than $1 million of the loans by the first quarter
of ’06, which is more than two years ahead of schedule. The museum deserves much
criticism, but claiming we have cost taxpayers millions is not one of them.”

It
appears that Finley is optimistic at best. However, the problem with Finley’s
assertion is that taxpayer dollars not accounted for prior to his arrival as new
director of the museum is what I have been addressing. All fiscal matters he’s
involved in have nothing to do with the state of the museum’s finances before
his arrival as the new director.

In fact, if what Finley states is true,
then why would White press for a forensic audit?

“We must be absolutely
sure Milwaukee taxpayers were not ripped off,” White said. “I intend
to pursue this forensic audit in order to get to the bottom of what took place
at the Milwaukee Public Museum.”

With the Family Care and Parks departments
in deficits totaling several millions of dollars, and further fiscal chaos soon
to be exposed at the county, Milwaukee County government appears on the verge
of a financial melt down.

Robert Miranda is editor-in-chief of the Milwaukee
Spanish Journal.

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