City Council mainstay Kurt Zimmerman proposed that a forensic audit be conducted here so the many mysteries of Sierra Madre's sorely abused finances might finally be revealed and at last straightened out.
As you may also recall, this sent John Buchanan into an ashen faced spasm of fear, possibly because he understood how things such as City Hall's misuse of CRA redevelopment funds would be quickly unearthed and then exposed to the hot lights of a rather hostile District Attorney review. Something that could have caused a number of his former City Council associates and cronies to face extensive interviews with some of this state's most intriguing legal authorities.
Fortunately for the good old boys of that era a forensic audit never took place, and perhaps the last really proper opportunity to rescue Sierra Madre from any possible consequences of its CRA excesses soon passed. Possible because, as you can see below, those fellows from the state do come around from time to time. And just because they haven't done so for quite some time is no guarantee that they never will.
In three easy steps, this is how the CRA Shell Game could very well have all broken down here. Redevelopment (or CRA) money always was the easiest to way to hide additional payroll costs, and City of Sierra Madre management has long been suspected of using the "assign payroll costs shell game" to disguise a number of intriguing things. Here's three.
Number 1. Despite the electorate saying "Do not spend more money!" by defeating the UUT increase TWICE (2012 and 2014), City Hall jacked up such things as employee health care plans, and to the tune of over $30,000 per year in some especially happy cases.
Number 2. Using CRA funds hid the fact that Sierra Madre is top heavy with bloated upper management costs. Instead of pushing payroll to the 4th of July Parade or Water Department, Sierra Madre could have streamlined directors and/or implemented outsourcing. But why would they want to do that when there was all that secretive and free CRA cash laying about?
Number 3. The CRA shell game also hid the true CalPERS pension costs because the good ol' budget splits it up instead of putting it in one big number that you could call out as being excessive.
So what could those possible consequences be? Check out what just happened in another once upon a time CRA Magic Kingdom, the one people like to call Cudahy (link):
Calif. Controller Orders City Of Cudahy To Repay $22.7M In Taxpayer Funds (CBSLA.com) — Officials in the City of Cudahy had virtually no oversight in place to prevent the misuse of taxpayer dollars when it spent nearly $23 million in redevelopment funds, according to state audits released Tuesday.
The assessment from California Controller John Chiang was outlined in several audits examining the city’s internal controls and fiscal management practices, as well as its compliance with state laws governing the use of transportation and redevelopment funds.
During the period between July 2010 and June 2012, auditors found questionable leave pay, violations of the city’s contract code, uncontrolled credit card spending and mismanaged state grant funds. Chiang also reviewed redevelopment asset transfers and ordered $22.7 million in redevelopment assets to be returned to the agency.
“They used their credit cards improperly, they misspent, they wasted good state tax dollars that had to be returned back to the state,” Chiang told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO.
The audit’s findings come just over a year after former Cudahy mayor David Silva was sentenced to one year in prison in January 2013 for his role in taking cash bribes from a businessman who wanted to open a medical marijuana dispensary. Another former Cudahy city official, Angel Perales, was sentenced to five years of probation for his part in the scheme.
The audit – which was initiated late last year at the request of the Cudahy’s new management – found that of the 79 basic standards of internal controls, only eight were used in the city. Internal controls are management practices that ensure the appropriate use of public funds as well as sufficient accounting to show the use and tracking of the city’s expenditures.
Chiang praised current Cudahy officials for their cooperation in uncovering the problems identified in the audits and for their commitment to implementing the recommendations.
“Sweeping problems under the rug is not a solution for fiscal mismanagement,” said Chiang. “Cudahy leaders deserve credit for wanting an independent review of their internal controls and for moving quickly to address the major gaps in the prior administration’s accounting and management practices.”
Update On Public Comment Hating La Habra Heights
Back on September 12th we posted an article about the attempt by certain City Council members in La Habra Heights to erase public comment from any local television rebroadcasts. The reason being that they did not particularly enjoy some of the things that the public had been saying.
The post was called "Is It Possible To Censor And Remove Public Comment From City Council Meeting Television Rebroadcasts?" and you can link to it here.
The Whittier Daily News is reporting that the La Habra Heights City Council has now backed down on so radical and undemocratic a move, at least for the moment (link).
La Habra Heights council puts off decision on blackout of public-comment period on cable TV - A proposal to black out the City Council public-comment period on the city’s cable television broadcast will be put on hold until the beginning of 2015. The council on Monday voted 5-0 to table the blackout.
“What I’d like to do is give it a couple of months and take control myself,” said Mayor Brian Bergman.
“I guess I blame myself for some of this because I haven’t engaged enough and I’ve let people make false accusations and accuse staff of all kinds of things,” he said. “I’m not ready to vote for it tonight but if it doesn’t get fixed, I’m voting for (the blackout).”
Before the vote, the council appeared to be split with Councilman Roy Francis and Councilwoman Jane Williams opposing any change.
Councilmen Michael Higgins and Kyle Miller, who made the proposal to stop of showing the public-comment period on cable television, went along with Bergman’s proposal for more time.
So what was the reason why they back down? Good old fashioned public outcry it appears. Here's more:
Resident George Edwards, who speaks at most meetings, Tuesday said he took exception to the comments about speakers like himself.
“I took offense to Mr. Bergman’s rant that was inaccurate and meant to pretty much deceive the community,” Edwards said. “I ask, why do you believe a politician?”
The black-out proposal was opposed by most speakers at Monday’s meeting.
“I can’t believe this would be under consideration,” said Kathy Steele, a member of Heights Oil Watch that opposes a proposal by Matrix Oil Co. to drill for oil, at the meeting.
“Why would you want to black out the public from hearing what their fellow citizens have to say?” Steele asked. “If you want to tick people off, ban their guns and their right to free speech.”
Mike Hughes, Heights Oil Watch president, said he’s happy the black-out proposal was put off because his members want the opportunity to talk about the oil issue.
“There’s a few disrupting people who bring up the same events over and over again and have nothing to do with oil,” Hughes said. “Every city is going to have its problem kids but you can’t ban everyone else from voicing their opinions.”
Could it be that certain LHH City Councilmembers don't want the outspoken opponents of environmentally destructive oil fracking there to get any more attention in the community than they already have? And because of that they are now trying to silence them with what is tantamount to government imposed censorship?
Considering the large sums of money involved, I'd vote yes on that one every time.