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State Audit Blasts Seattle's Indian Services Commission

Liz Jones

A newly released state audit of Seattle's Indian Services Commission finds some big problems with the group's oversight and bookkeeping. This finding is the latest is a series of critical city and state audits of this commission during the past decade. Now, the commission's poor finances have now put the city at risk for millions of dollars. KUOW's Liz Jones reports.


Here's one problem the audit highlights: The assistant director of Seattle's Indian Services Commission was writing checks to herself, but without the receipts or paperwork to back it up. That added up to about $30,000. The audit goes to on to cite nearly $74,000 of similarly questionable expenses.

Nick Licata: "I am just very, very disappointed to learn how many gaps there were in accountability within the commission."

That's Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata. He heads the council committee that loosely oversees the Indian Services Commission.

The commission provides services for Native residents; things like housing programs and cultural activities. It's set up as a public development authority, or PDA. Those are independent entities of the city, but legally separate.

A volunteer board oversees the commission. City involvement is minimal, which Licata now questions.

Licata: "In this instance, no, it's not working. As far as accountability and transparency are concerned, it's horrible. We obviously need to do something."

The state audit report released Monday faults the committee's board for poor oversight, questionable expenses and failure to maintain its property. The report covers a two–year period ending in June, 2010.

The commission's two paid employees during that period have since moved on.

The commission receives no city funding. Most of its revenue comes from rent on two buildings it owns in Rainier Valley. That construction was financed with bonds, backed by the city.

Now, the commission can't afford about $2.5 million in repairs on those buildings.

Its main tenant has threatened to move out. If that happens, the city could be on the hook for $6 million in bond debt. So, the city is trying to transfer the property to a nonprofit that would assume the debt and ownership.

Kenny Pittman is the city coordinator for the Indian Services Commission and other public development authorities. He says the city is making changes to how the commission's board operates.

Pittman: "I believe that by looking at the report you'll see we're being very, very proactive in trying to address the shortfalls that the commission had, and we've taken steps over the past 12 months to address a lot of the internal concerns the auditor identified."

Pittman says the city has created a committee to review the commission's finances. It's also tightened up the commission's check–writing policy.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

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