The City Beat wants to give a shoutout to Alerus Center Commissioner Randy Newman, who argued this that maybe the events center should just release its December financial reports in January instead of trying to hide it until March.
He joked that he was just trying to get on my good side, but I think he’s given it some thought and decided that the reports are actually public information, which has long been my stance. (For my sarcastic remarks on this matter, see this post.)
The December report gives you a year-to-date figure that usually serves as a good stand-in for the year-end report. It’s a lot more immediate because it’s usually June or something before the auditors OK the final year-end report.
However, in recent years, the Alerus Center commission has gotten into its head that it can’t release the December reports because, the numbers being unaudited, would confuse the public or something like that.
By March, the auditors will have given the numbers a preliminary audit, so the numbers are more solid and that’s when the commission wants to release the year-end report.
Randy spoke up this morning and said he felt uncomfortable with this practice. He advocated releasing the December report with the caveat that it maybe adjusted down the road.
The accounting system is good enough that, when the auditors look at the numbers, the adjustments are rarely very big anyway, he said.
A guy from Brady Martz, the big local accounting firm, who was there agreed.
Commissioner David Evenson said he’s more concerned when the line between profit and loss is fine. If the Alerus Center said it was in the black by $10,000 as of December and then turn around and say it was actually in red by $20,000, that would look bad, he said.
There was the implication the the media would confuse the public with our reports, which began to grate on me. So I asked to speak and pointed out that I’ve never heard of the public being confused by any of this so this is not really a problem at all.
Commission Chairman Curt Kreun, who’s also on the council, said actually it’s the council that sometimes get confused when they read a number in the paper and then later on see a different number in city reports.
Someone asked Finance Director Saroj Jerath how her office handles requests for financial data. She said the city just gives out information on whatever cash it has in the relevant accounts, financial reports being somewhat artificial constructs with a lot of assumptions that don’t reflect actual cash on hand.
That’s kind of what I said in the earlier rant.
The commissioners never did come to full agreement on this matter, though I give them credit for beginning the discussion. Like most reporters, I’m inherenty biased toward openness, but even if I were in their shoes, I think it’d be pretty clear to me that secrecy only breeds suspicion and confusion.
(By the way, here’s another case of secrecy that ended alright. There’s hope for these fellas yet.)