The puzzle at DCR
Auditor Suzanne Bump called in to review public lease oversight problems
State Auditor Suzanne Bump says she is puzzled why it took so long for anyone in state government to notice the haphazard way the Department of Conservation and Recreation was overseeing leases with private interests.
“This is not a sideline of the agency. This is what the agency does,” Bump said after dispatching a team of auditors to DCR to begin reviewing the agency’s 1,000 leases and permits.
Bump was called in by DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert after leasing problems were brought to light by a series of public record requests filed by CommonWealth that formed the basis for a story published this week by the magazine. The unearthed records reveal that rent from some of the agency’s leases is going uncollected, expiration dates on others are being ignored, and leases are being renewed in perpetuity at ridiculously low terms.
“He [Lambert] characterized it as a seriously flawed system for tracking all of the monies and the leases, contracts, and permits,” Bump said. “He expressed grave concern about it.”
Bump says she doesn’t know the last time anyone reviewed DCR’s leases, but she suspects it has been quite awhile. “We can’t tell that it’s been done in recent history,” Bump said. “It’s puzzling that there hasn’t been greater attention to a system to track all of this.”Lambert took over as commissioner last February, replacing his current boss, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rick Sullivan. When he was heading up DCR, Sullivan apparently brought in the state’s Inspector General to review DCR’s cash management practices but never ordered a review of the agency’s leases. Lambert, in an interview, suggested the lease problems can be traced back to 2003, when former Gov. Mitt Romney created DCR by merging the Metropolitan District Commission with the Department of Environmental Management. Lambert said the agencies had two distinct cultures that never quite meshed.
Bump says her team will spend more than six months taking inventory of the agency’s leases and permits, analyzing a sample of the arrangements, and then making recommendations to improve the system of oversight.