OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The board overseeing the American Indian museum being built in Oklahoma City and lawmakers who backed the project had "unrealistic expectations" for the museum, according to a state audit released Wednesday.
The audit, requested by Gov. Mary Fallin, said the board had a vision of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum as a world-class facility based on unrealistic expectations from both itself and the Legislature. The board, formally the Native American Cultural and Education Authority, was created by the Legislature in 1994.
"The board chose the most expensive of six proposals presented by its architect," State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said.
"They decided to build a $169 million facility when only $5 million in funding had been secured," he added. "Throughout the years, although additional funding was not forthcoming, the board maintained its commitment to the most expensive plan."
Blake Wade, executive director of the board, said it would follow the audit's recommendations, including developing a comprehensive budget. Wade said he was glad to have the audit released and behind him, but said it is up to the Legislature to improve oversight of the project, which also was recommended by the audit.
"It (the audit) lasted about four or five months, so I'm pleased that they found there was no financial wrongdoings of any kind," Wade said.
"The agreement was, Gov. Mary Fallin said to me, 'Blake go out and raise $40 million and we will match that with state money,'" he said.
A statement from the governor's office said Fallin believes the board is making corrections to issues raised in the audit, but that the state needs to look at all possible ways to finish the project.
"It is important for the Legislature, NACEA leadership and all stakeholders to work together to ensure that this project, which the state began seven years ago, is completed and can open as quickly as possible to attracting visitors and earning revenue," the governor's statement said.
Construction of the museum began in 2006. Critics of the project say it has been mismanaged and that the state has already sunk $63.4 million in bonds for the incomplete structure.
"This project is the epitome of government waste and demonstrates how easy it is for government officials to spend other people's money without regard to cost," state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said.
"As the audit shows, when given the opportunity to choose less expensive options for the construction of this museum, project leaders chose to select the most expensive option - even though they knew they did not have adequate funding," Anderson said. "The taxpayers of Oklahoma deserve better stewardship of their money than the leadership of this project has provided."
Blake said the museum is expected to open as scheduled in December 2014, if the state provides the $40 million to match what he said has been raised through private donors. He said that if the money is secured during the upcoming legislative session that begins in February, total funding will be $80 million.
"We have $91 million in the ground now," Wade said, adding that the $80 million would bring the total cost to the original estimate of about $170 million.
"And that's to make it a world-class facility, and that's what our vision is," Wade said.
Developers have said the museum would house collections from the more than 30 federally recognized Oklahoma-based tribes, the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington and other tribal museums.