Thursday, May 24, 2012
The Calvert Gazette
Audit Claims Chambers Acted Inappropriately
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By Guy LeonardStaff Writer The decisions of Calvert Board of Edu-cation vice chair William Chambers whileacting as the top manager at the Show PlaceArena in Upper Marlboro have been scruti-nized and found to be highly questionable inan audit report from the Maryland NationalCapital Park and Planning Commission.Chambers retired from the manage-ment position at the arena abruptly last year after 32 years with the organization.According to the audit, Chambers au-thorized as much as $40,000 over a six-year
period to be used to benet many charitableand non-prot groups, but none more than
the United Way of Calvert County at $9,276.That organization is under the leader-ship of Chambers’ wife, Kelly Chambers.The report outlined these numbers asevidence of “improper and excessive hospi-tality expenditures.”One instance found by auditors showedthat the arena incurred hospitality expensesfor a staff members’ family party to cel-ebrate a high school graduation, “which isobviously an improper expenditure.”The report went on to say the costswere reimbursed during the investigation but the incident “nevertheless suggests adangerous sense of personal entitlement.”That incident did not detail those in-volved but the audit immediately follows up by chiding Chambers directly for his man-agement decisions.“Similarly, although we have no doubtthat the work of the United Way of CalvertCounty is laudable, the president and CEOof this organization is the spouse of the for-mer Show Place manager who authorizedthe hospitality expenditures as indicatedabove for that group,” the audit reads. “Ac-cording to the documents we reviewed, theorganization has rented the Show PlaceArena for several years to hold an annualfundraising gala, and the revenue generatedfor these events is about $11,000 in recentyears.“Apparently, the facility manager would routinely provide an open bar during part of these eventswithout charge, costing the facil-ity an average of $1,300 per year for the seven years included.”Chambers said that thearrangement with the CalvertUnited Way was “100 percentabove board” and that rate struc-tures and fees charged to any en-tity were approved by the park and planning commission.He said that during theinvestigation he was never al-
lowed to see any of the ndings
until they were released to the public.“I served honorably for 32years … everything was above board,” Chambers said. “I wouldstand by the decisions made inadvertising and marketing.”Chambers said that the are-na grew to become a venue thathad between $25 million to $30million in economic impact for Prince George’s and surround-ing counties.“It started out as a realwhite elephant and turned into areal economic engine,” Chambers said.The United Way also received BowieBaysox tickets, according to staff e-mailsreviewed by auditors, “for the stated pur- pose of rewarding the staff of the facilitymanager’s spouse.”This was often accomplished by a pro-cess of “bundling” in expenses that person-
ally beneted arena staff with those that
were deemed legitimate advertising pack-ages, some of which may not have been im- proper, the audit stated.Still much of this was accomplished because of a lack of oversight, the auditstated.Some of these advertising transactions,however, were questionable at best, the re- port stated.These included “valuable tickets” for sporting, social and political events thatwere intentionally bundled into paymentsfor advertising packages. Sometimes thesetickets found there way into the hands of arena staff’s family members, the reportstated.Staff also “coached third parties intocomposing invoice language and terms inways that effectively concealed the true na-ture of advertising payments — bundlingvaluable tickets, golf apparel and undocu-mented travel expenses under advertisingsponsorship.”This coaching of third parties alsoextended to concealing the true nature of advertising payments that actually coveredopen bars, booze cruises, memberships andcharitable donations, the audit showed.
The audit was rst sparked by an em
- ployee whistleblower who made allegationsof policy violations at the arena back in July2011. The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Internal AuditDivision (IAD) then began an investigation.Eventually six members of the arenastaff were placed on paid administrativeleave, three promptly retired.By September of last year, however,IAD reported to their superiors that it in-tended to terminate the investigation be-
cause of “the potential for undue inuence
and threats resulting in impaired inde- pendence — all originating outside of theCommission.”
The threats were not specied in the
report, but the audit revealed that there wereefforts by arena employees to deliberatelyhinder the investigation by deleting relatede-mails.
Ofcials at park and planning thenhired the law rm of Akin Gump Strauss
Hauer and Feld LLP to take up the work were IAD had left off.
Their investigation nished in January
of this year.