Nothing breeds suspicion more than secrecy.
Nothing breeds wild conjecture more than suspicion.
And, when secrecy is tied to a substantial amount of public money that at least appears to have been flushed down a rat hole, the suspicion and conjecture are rampant.
Back in February we were told that because of "substantial abiguity" - P.R. speak for "something smells" - the Department of Community and Economic Development would be doing a "fiscal monitoring report" on the $500,000 anchor grant the agency had given the City of Warren, which had, in turn, lent to GRO-Warren/Warren Main Street to restore the former Roberti Building and establish an arts center there.
GRO-Warren is gone; the money is essentially gone; the project is barely half-finished; and, there is a contractor who feels cheated.
A DCED spokesman confirmed late last week that the agency had completed its report, forwarded it to the City of Warren and expects a response from city officials.
Both the DCED spokesperson and Acting City Manager Mary Ann Nau indicated that the review is confidential. One may assume that the response will be confidential as well. And, on Monday, City Councilman Sam Harvey announced the report is confidential because it is "part of an on-going investigation."
There is a lot of embarrassment to go around when a half-million dollars disappears in a cloud of plaster dust, particularly when the the photo-op for the project's launch two years ago included city, county and state officials, along with GRO-Warren, Main Street and the Warren Development Group, a player whose supporting role was never really clear to us.
The city is embarrassed because it received the grant. The state is embarrassed because it issued the grant. Still others are embarrassed because they rode the train right off the cliff.
It may also be that the embarrassment of the affected parties isn't the only thing prompting the secrecy, but any more along that path would take one dangerously close to conjecture, though Mr. Harvey's statement provides fertile loam for it.
Nevertheless, we believe that taxpayers have a right to know how their taxes are spent, or if they were misspent. At some point in their investigation of the ill-fated Allegheny Center for the Arts building project, the DCED and the City of Warren owe the people of Warren and the taxpayers of Pennsylvania a full accounting of the money and a full explanation of what went wrong.
And, it should be sooner rather than later.