This is yet one more indication that in the San Gabriel Valley resident recognition of local government corruption is leading to an increased awareness that measures do need to be taken in instances such as this one. The old "go along and trust the process" mentality just doesn't seem to be working for people any longer.
In yesterday's edition of The San Gabriel Valley Tribune (click here) the possibility of even more cities getting out of "The COG" was examined. Here is what they had to say:
Walnut, other cities considering leaving the COG - Growing nervous over a criminal investigation into the former executive director of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, and worried about liability spill-over, some of the COG's 31 members are considering withdrawing from the regional agency.
Walnut's City Council will formally vote on withdrawing from the COG at 7 p.m. Wednesday, while El Monte intends to agendize the matter for its City Council meeting Tuesday night. City Council members from West Covina, Diamond Bar and La Puente all said they are very concerned about the criminal investigation and allegations, and the accompanying legal costs, but have not scheduled formal votes on membership.
"The financial risk to the City of Walnut by remaining in the organization is simply too high," wrote Walnut Councilman Tom King, in a memo circulated to the City Council by City manager Rob Wishner.
Wishner's report to the Council recommends "tabling" the city's 2012-13 membership renewal and withholding dues of $13,898 "until such time that the matters of conflict of interest and liability have been adequately addressed."
COG's executive director Nick Conway, 60, was arrested June 29 on four felony counts of conflict of interest in relation to his work with the COG, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
The matter of financial risk to SGVCOG member cities is a real one. Cities that obtained grant and other moneys through The COG could, should investigators and the Courts conclude there was actual fraud involved, be asked to return whatever it is that they have received. If you add up all the moneys that have been parceled here over the years through SGVCOG grants and other programs, the hit to Sierra Madre's already at risk budgets could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I have obtained a copy of the City of Walnut Agenda Report on this matter, and here is how they explain why cities could find themselves at further severe financial risk should they choose to remain in The COG:
The management of the SGVCOG is conducted by Arroyo Associates, a private enterprise solely owned by the now suspended Executive Director. The Executive Director of the SGVCOG, Nick Conway, is currently charged with four felony counts of violation of Government Code Section 1090. The SGVCOG continues to pay the Executive Director his contracted salary. For several years the agency has been classified as an at-risk agency due to irregularities in the management of grants by CALTRANS.
(Later) Despite the recent arrest of the Executive Director, the firm Arroyo Associates continues to manage grants under which an apparent conflict of interest exists. Grants administered in violation of Government Code Section 1090 are legally null and void. Under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) the SGVCOG is at high risk for further civil action by government or community organizations.
Attempts to educate the current Executive Committee, President and Board Members of this risk have been rebuffed and scoffed at. The risk to the City of Walnut for continued exposure to RICO Civil and Criminal actions are not justified. The City of Walnut representative has not voted for continuing these apparent grant conflicts two years in a row during budget approval sessions. The budget includes grants likely managed under a conflict of interest.
In other words, there is a distinct possibility that any money or grants obtained by the City of Sierra Madre through the SGVCOG may very well be subject to recall should the findings of the Court require it. And the pay back requirements could go back for as many years as the Court concludes RICO violations existed. By quitting now we would avoid any further exposure. Exposure for past illegal transactions would still exist. We did have representatives there, but unfortunately they were people who chose to look the other way.
All moral considerations aside, I don't think the City of Sierra Madre can afford to take the kinds of severe financial risks continued membership in the SGVCOG could bring. The conflict of interest situation that led to Conway's arrest still exists, and corruption there is so endemic to the place that the current leadership sees no reason to end these practices. They apparently see nothing wrong with the way business continues to be done despite Executive Director Nick Conway's arrest on corruption charges for just those kinds of things.
It is time for Sierra Madre to get out. We cannot afford to take these kinds of chances.