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Auditors head back to St. Louis Art Museum after week's delay

Auditors head back to St. Louis Art Museum after week's delay

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CLAYTON • A tax oversight board on Tuesday decided to send auditors back to the St. Louis Art Museum after board infighting caused a week’s delay.

Last week, some of the commissioners of the Zoo-Museum District considered firing the accounting firm Kerber, Eck and Braeckel from the task of inspecting Art Museum finances and governance.

The board’s audit committee voted to halt the examination, sending the auditors home for the week.

But on Tuesday, following heated arguments and lengthy recapitulation of past meetings, emails and contracts, the members unanimously voted to keep the firm on the job.

The Zoo-Museum District oversees the disbursement of about $70 million to the region’s five tax-supported cultural institutions — the Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Science Center and St. Louis Zoo, as well as the Art Museum.

This is the third institution to be audited by the district. The first examination, of the St. Louis Science Center, revealed five-figure executive bonuses and a bevy of vice presidents.

The second audit, of the Missouri History Museum, uncovered a million-dollar land deal between the museum and a former board member, ex-Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.

Kerber, Eck and Braeckel has done each of the inspections, at a cost of about $35,000 apiece.

The problem this time — another example of self-acknowledged dysfunction among the commissioners — concerned the way the firm was hired to examine the Art Museum.

In the past, the board’s audit committee, chaired by commissioner Gloria Wessels, met to approve the auditing procedures.

This time, Wessels didn’t call a meeting, and board chairman Ben Uchitelle decided to send the procedures out to board members himself, by email, before the accounting firm started work.

That wasn’t right, said commissioner Charlie Valier. Still, he said, and all eventually agreed, it wasn’t a reason to fire the auditors.

“First, they’re competent to do it,” Valier said. “Secondly, there’s too much water over the dam. We’re two-thirds of the way through the audit.”

Firing the firm at this point would have cost the board about $17,000, Wessels said, in hours already worked.

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