MADISON, Wis. — State Fair Park officials have kept shoddy contract records and lack a plan for the idle Milwaukee Mile race track, according to an audit released Friday.

State Fair Park is the agency that operates the state’s 190-acre fairground in West Allis and Milwaukee. The agency’s primary responsibility is to run the 11-day state fair every August.

The Legislative Audit Bureau reviewed agency operations from mid-2013 through mid-2017. The report says park officials couldn’t provide auditors with a complete list of its contracts.

In four instances park officials solicited bids for goods and services exceeding $50,000, but auditors couldn’t determine whether they entered into contracts as a result. In another instance park officials couldn’t provide two one-year extensions to a 2015 contract for advertising services worth more than $600,000 annually. Auditors also identified nine contracts park officials executed before approval from their board.

Park officials also haven’t maintained adequate information auditors needed to evaluate the financial effects of independently managing the fair’s ride and game area, the report said.

Auditors also found the agency lacks any plan for the 54-acre Milwaukee Mile racetrack. The track hasn’t hosted any major races since July 2015. Revenue generated by non-state fair events at the track decreased from $401,900 in fiscal year 2014-15 to $286,400 in fiscal year 2016-17, the report found.

Kathleen O’Leary, State Fair Park’s CEO and executive director, said in a letter attached to the report that auditors changed their request for contract data four times during the review, requiring multiple revisions to a list with more than 6,000 lines of data.

Prior to the audit the contract information didn’t exist in one document and the agency had to assemble one during the end of the fiscal year and during the state fair, she said. Some contracts were executed without board approval because the board meets bi-monthly, she added.

She said the agency would comply with auditors’ recommendations to solicit more information from ride and game vendors to assess the financial effects of independent midway management. Still, she maintained that such an approach is financially prudent.

As for the Milwaukee Mile, O’Leary said interest in auto racing has been flagging in recent years and racing on oval tracks like the Milwuakee Mile is becoming a thing of the past. She said the agency is working to find alternative events to hold at the track, including music festivals and celebrating Harley-Davidson’s 115th anniversary this year.

The audit did note that the agency’s revenues grew from $21.8 million in fiscal year 2012-13 to $25.6 million in fiscal year 2016-17. Expenditures grew 20 percent during that span, from $17.4 million to $20.8 million.

State Sen. Robert Cowles and Rep. Samantha Kerkman, co-chairs of the Legislature’s audit committee, issued a joint statement Friday saying the report reveals the agency must improve its contract and procurement practices and the audit will help the agency avoid financial mismanagement in the future.


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TODD RICHMOND
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