The public today will get its first glimpse since November of the budget for the Seattle Mariners’ new baseball stadium, raising questions from some officials about why more regular updates haven’t been available.
The board overseeing the project - the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District - has been producing regular budget updates for internal use and has been keeping the Mariners apprised of project costs.
But the last publicly released budget was in November, when the 45,500-seat stadium and parking garage were estimated to cost $384.5 million. Since then, contingency funds have pushed up the available money to $414 million.
“When you look at all the revenues, we can deliver the project within that,” PFD director Ken Johnsen said last week.
But Johnsen and other PFD officials have refused for weeks to provide any details or documents on the budget, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Sunday, saying it had asked for the information repeatedly.
Johnsen said the information would be made public at the PFD board’s meeting today.
“It’s best to present it in its full context, and we’re planning on doing that Monday,” he said.
But Chip Holcomb, senior counsel with the state attorney general’s office, said budget documents of public agencies are public and can’t be withheld until they’re final.
“There shouldn’t be any issue with regard to finality, if what you’re talking about is budget,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb said the only budget records that aren’t public are certain sensitive ones, such as the Washington State Patrol’s spending on organized crime investigations.
Joyce Kirangi, a state auditor reviewing the stadium board, said the board has produced monthly budget reports just like any other government agency.
“Each month the report’s going to show the total budget at the beginning of the year, how much they spent each month, then another column showing what they’ve spent and what’s left,” Kirangi said. “That’s just a standard report.”
PFD board member Terrence Carroll, a retired judge and mediator, said he didn’t know news media hadn’t been given the budget reports.
“We (board members) have been getting regular reviews of budget information as it develops, and I’m surprised you haven’t, but I don’t know why,” Carroll told The News Tribune.
But another board member, Tom Gibbs, defended the PFD’s handling of budget information. He noted that some legal disputes over the project weren’t resolved until last month, and said there’s nothing wrong with giving budget information to board members first.
Johnsen has been “doing the job right,” Gibbs said.
For his part, Johnsen said he is “very, very comfortable with how we’ve approached public access with this organization.”
“We are very much within the law, but more importantly, we’re way beyond that.”
Holcomb said new government agencies often take some time learning to deal with open-records issues.
“I don’t think it’s that unusual for new agencies to go up a learning curve with both public records and the Open Meetings Act,” he said. “Most agencies, and especially the smaller local agencies, frequently don’t have a really good grasp of what the law requires.”
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