The Westin hotel at Denver International Airport obstructed the city’s attempts to evaluate its finances and daily operations, according to the city auditor.
The office of Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien released an audit Thursday that said hotel administration withheld key information, hindering the airport’s ability to validate the hotel’s self-reported financial and operational information.
In its exchanges with the auditor’s office, the hotel claimed its contract with the city says it doesn't need to hand over any documents it considers proprietary. O'Brien disagrees.
“I don't think that a provision in a contract trumps the City Charter which gives the auditor the authority to conduct this kind of an audit,” he said in an interview with CPR. “Basically I think Westin is out of compliance with law and I think the airport should hold them accountable for it.”
The report makes several recommendations. Among the changes, it says Denver officials should renegotiate the contract to force Marriott to hand over those financial and operational documents.
"During this process, we provided all documentation and information required by the terms of the audit. Certain company information was also requested outside of the scope of the audit," said Laura Lojas, the general manager of the Westin at DIA in an email. "As a courtesy, we allowed the auditors to review the information they requested, but as a publicly held company, we do not allow proprietary information to be reproduced or distributed."
O'Brien said being able to review those documents is a transparency and accountability issue.
“If we could not get the documents needed for the audit in a timely manner, how could the airport be doing regular monitoring on its own to assure the proper care and management of the hotel?” O'Brien said in a news release Thursday.
The City and County of Denver owns the Westin building on DIA property. The city says it spent more than $700 million in bonds and airport capital funds to build the hotel and the transit center that runs beneath it. Denver pays Marriott International Inc. a management fee to run the Westin hotel.
“Who is monitoring the hotel if there’s no supporting documentation for their claims?” O’Brien said in the news release. “Right now, the airport is taking the Westin’s word that this public investment is being properly managed.”
In an interview, O’Brien criticized DIA for being “passive” and not acting in their own best interest. Revenue from the Westin goes into the airport’s funds, he said.
“The delays and pushback in sharing the requested reports shows the airport isn’t doing its own reviews on a regular basis,” O’Brien said in the news release. “If the airport already had this information as it should, we would not have needed to wait for permission from Marriott."
The auditor’s office is in charge of ensuring minimum wage laws are being followed for all airport jobs, O’Brien said. This issue is likely to come up again if the Denver City Council approves legislation raising wages for all city jobs to $15 an hour by 2021.
O’Brien told CPR he would not be able to confirm if the Westin and Marriott were compliant with any new laws if he doesn't have access to their financial documents.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from Westin.