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State auditor criticizes oversight of SouthField development in Abington, Rockland, and Weymouth

The board of directors overseeing the redevelopment of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station have not done enough to get the job done on schedule, according to the state auditor’s office.

The recent audit, released May 13 by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump, found that South Shore Tri-Town Development’s board of directors has not provided enough oversight, financial planning, and internal controls to successfully complete the redevelopment of the air base located in the towns of Abington, Rockland, and Weymouth.

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“A project of this scope requires direction, oversight, and guidance from individuals with expertise in development, public planning, and finance,” said Bump, in a press release. “I do not believe the Tri-Town board currently provides that leadership.”

Tri-Town has spent years overseeing the transformation of the old base into SouthField, a new community that will include 2,855 homes, 2 million square feet of commercial space, an 18-hole golf course and athletic facilities. The project was initially slated to be complete by 2017. So far, only homes have been built and about 500 people reside there.

The audit says Tri-Town needs to figure out how to raise the money necessary to complete construction of the East-West Parkway, a key roadway through the base that will connect Route 18 in Weymouth to Route 3 in Rockland. Tri-Town must also figure out how to finance SouthField’s water and sewage systems, as well infrastructure such as streets, sidewalks, and utilities. According to the audit, those projects total $220 million, and Tri-Town only secured financing for $62 million.

The audit also found that millions were spent $1.3 million to two law firms without entering into formal written contracts and over $1 million in payments to nine contractors without detailed invoices showing why the work was necessary.

Bump faulted Tri-Town’s 5-member board of directors and raised the question of whether new leadership is needed.

“The lack of financial planning jeopardizes the project’s completion,” said Bump, in a telephone interview. “The fact that this has not been a priority of the board is first of all evident because it was not discussed board meetings and is a symptom that the board lacks the necessary experience and expertise to get this job done.”

“The financial accountability for the spending that has gone on is also lacking,” said Bump. “Payments for legal and consultant services without proper contracts, without proper invoices... it shows an inattention to financial detail.”

“I expect that in the coming weeks there will be some meetings with critical players to address some of these issues,” she said.

The state auditor’s findings raised the concern of lawmakers like Representative Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat.

“The findings are very disappointing,” said Mariano. “I don’t know where we go from here, to be honest with you. We set this up and let the towns appoint the members of the [Tri-Town] board. We hoped that they appoint professional folks that would get this done.”

Kevin Donovan, Tri-Town’s chief executive officer, defended his agency and pointed out that the audit on focused on July 2008 and June 2011, when the whole country was hit hard by the economic recession.

Donovan said the main reason why the development has not progressed as quickly as originally planned had “more to do with market conditions than anything.”

Much progress had been made at SouthField since then, he said.

“The financial structure is in place to go forward,” said Donovan. “I’m sure the next time [Auditor Bump] comes out here she’ll be impressed at the project and the changes that have been made to achieve that goal.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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