The notion of what exactly an adjudicated newspaper might be, and if the paper our town uses for its legal advertising fits the definition of a rather ancient state law regarding what such a thing might be, became an item of some contention at last night's City Council meeting. On the one hand we had the members of the Council concerned that it might not be a dependable venue for our City's paid legal advertising, while on the other we had the minority faction arguing on behalf of the paper's interests because it functions as a kind of fanzine for them and their friends.
Now this portion of the City Council meeting was predicated on the belief that Susan Henderson, the publisher of the occasionally seen Mountain Views News, would show up and explain a couple of things. One of them being why her paper isn't printed on anything resembling a schedule, and secondly, why it is she refuses city requests to show proof of another requirement for adjudication, widespread effective distribution including a bona fide paid subscription list. You'd think that this simple request from the folks that send her checks in exchange for running Sierra Madre's legal advertising would be both graciously honored and shown the courtesy of a visit. But apparently that wasn't to be the case.
There are two possible lapses on the MVN's part that could theoretically lead to a successful challenge in Court of the paper's adjudication. The first being that it doesn't come out regularly. Though the paper is dated for every Saturday, it rarely seems to make it to the racks until sometime the following week. And there was an entire week last month where it never came out at all. The other concern is if this paper is distributed at the level state adjudication law requires. Proof of a substantial paid subscription list would be a start. But also how the paper gets into the hands of other residents also being an important concern. 200 or so copies distributed from a handful of rusting racks downtown might not be what is required.
There was an interesting red herring tossed out by an obstreperous John Buchanan. His dodge was that by forcing Susan Henderson to make public a list of the subscribers to her paper, we could be embarrassing whoever it is that is on that roster. Which makes sense. I mean, who would want it to be known that they paid good money for something that can be found laying in small heaps downtown for free? That is, when it is actually published. According to the ad in the paper's most recent issue that yearly subscription cost is $60. Which seems like a lot to pay for something that is otherwise thrown onto street corners.
Anybody noticing that the paper is not living up to its obligations to Sierra Madre's taxpayers is requested to notify City Manager's office. Especially when the paper is late, or doesn't even show up at all.
A few months ago it was decided by the City Council that John Buchanan would speak about the missing City audits from the Shenanigan Era. John being the one remaining elected official from those years of slacker fiscal management still in the elective saddle. This was agendized in hopes that he could somehow shed some light on just how such negligence came to be. After all, this really is an important issue, especially when you consider that it led to the debacle over Measure U and our City levying a robust tax hike based on unaudited numbers. Numbers that turned out to be a million bucks light once the audits were actually completed a year or so later.
Delays on doing audits is, of course, inexcusable. After all, cities far less provident than ours always got their audits in. As City Councilmember Kurt Zimmerman pointed out, the only reason such a condition could exist at all was because this work was not a priority of those previous councils. They just didn't seem to care.
So a bigger man than John Buchanan might have seen this opportunity for what it was, a chance to educate the city about the consequences of not getting audits done. And he could have done this effectively if he had found it in him to admit that mistakes had happened, and that he would accept at least some of the responsibility.
But Johnny B. just mailed it in. He chose instead to blame everything on the planet for these audits having remained undone. Everything that is except the lack of proper oversight from City Councils that he served on. Seemingly no preparation was put into this testimony, he just basically rounded up his usual dodges and bromides, then strung them together like popcorn on a necklace. I kept a list of them for you.
- Software system antiquated.
- City Manager turnover.
- Complicated auditing standards.
- Errors made in 2005 on 2003 and 2004's audits.
- Certain things that only those not working here anymore would know.
- Organizational structure problems.
- Records weren't kept.
- Finance Department didn't fully understand the processes.
- Staffing and tools issues delayed the audits.
- Finance Director left in Feb of 2006.
- Records had been made inaccessible.
- Couldn't find a new Finance Director.
- Lemonade was made out of lemons.
- Took 9 months to replace the Finance Director.
- Sierra Madre pays poorly.
- A need to invest in fundamental change.
- Work was not done.
- Staff was not up to the task.
- There was direction, but you know, we could light our hair on fire.
- Needed the right tools to do the job.
- Can't go back into the '90s to compare old & new.
- Sometimes we need to bring in outside expertise.
- Challenges coming from monitoring good records as fixed assets.
- Wanted to get a fresh look, but the auditor was not helpful.
- When we have an auditor, we want a certain level of service.
- I could go on and on about this.
- As I'm sure you already know, we knew it.
- We never ran out of money even though we didn't get the audits done.
- Didn't have cushions in place.
- Back in the '90s ...
- We are on the right path now.
- Internal issues created other internal issues.
Never were so many words used to effectively explain nothing. But that was probably the point.