Editorial: More answers needed for Wayne Co. jail mess

The Detroit News

If a corporation intentionally fails to disclose to investors material information about its financial condition, it is subject to lawsuits and even criminal charges against its officers.

The same fate should await public officials who knowingly deceive taxpayers and their representatives.

That appears to be very much the case in Wayne County, where the long-delayed released of an audit reveals officials knew in 2011 that the new jail they were proposing would be at least $41 million over budget (it ended up being a lot more than that).

And even though they knew, they failed to disclose that pertinent information to the elected county commission or members of the Wayne County Building Authority, which approved a project that was destined from the beginning to be a budget buster.

That helps explain why the county now has a partially finished jail sitting on a prime site in downtown Detroit after already having spent more than the $200 million —and still needs $200 million more if it hopes to complete the lock-up.

It's Wayne County taxpayers who are stuck with the tab, and they should receive the same respect for the abuse of their dollars that corporate investors do.

Prosecutor Kim Worthy fought to keep the 2013 audit sealed while she pursued a criminal case. Three people were indicted — county lawyer Steven Collins, former consultant Anthony Parlovecchio and former county financial officer Carla Sledge. The cases against Collins and Parlovecchio have been thrown out, and the one against Sledge appears to be heading toward the same outcome.

Somebody should have to answer for this squandering of public money. Who else knew that the figures presented to the commission were doctored?

Robert Ficano was county executive at the time; he was voted out in part because of the jail mess. Worthy should be trying to find out what he knew, and whether others on his staff were complicit in the deception.

The lack of disclosure was not the only fault auditors found with the jail project.

They also report the county provided no oversight of the private outfits supervising and building the jail. That neglect led to cost overruns, the report says.

County officials also ignored concerns raised by contractors about work changes driving up costs, according to the audit.

And the project went forward with $29 million in no-bid contracts to AECOM and Parlovecchia's firm.

The jail construction was suspended in 2013 after the projected costs soared to $391 million, and the county had no money left to finish it.

County Executive Warren Evans has suggested he may borrow the money necessary to complete a smaller version of the original plan.

The audit confirms what we already knew: The Ficano administration was riddled with incompetence that may have bordered on corruption, and county taxpayers paid a heavy price.

What we don't know yet is who all participated in the deliberate deception that contributed to this colossal screw-up.

The accounting for the jail failure won't be complete until that question is answered.