Nationwide Arena operator takes public money but not input on budget

From The Columbus Dispatch

The board that is to receive $4.6 million in public money this year to manage the publicly owned Nationwide Arena met Thursday for its only public meeting in 2017. But it sought no public input for its budget because the spending plan was approved last month in private.

“Given the large amounts of public money they are getting, they should be bending over backwards to be as transparent as possible,” Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio News Media Association in Columbus and president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, said Thursday.

Don Brown, president of the four-member Columbus Arena Management board that jointly operates Nationwide Arena and Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center, said the CAM financial year ends June 30, so the $23 million budget had to be approved before then.

“How would we have operated the last (13) days without a budget?” Brown asked when The Dispatch asked him about the lack of public input.

This is the first year, Brown added, in which CAM’s only public meeting was held after the budget was approved. The reason: “The (four CAM) managers were not available” until July, Brown said.

The board members are representatives of Nationwide Arena, the Columbus Blue Jackets who play in the arena, OSU and Brown, executive director of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority.

CAM received $4.5 million last year and expects to receive $4.6 million this year in public money — casino taxes that were supposed to go to Franklin County and the city of Columbus. Those two governments agreed to provide that public money to the arena annually from 2012 through 2039.

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