Another Audit Tarnishes Watsonville’s Image
While conducting an investigation regarding a settlement between the City and the State’s Department of Finance, I found a January 25, 2016 letter from Mr. Jeffery V. Browning, the State Controller’s Chief of Division of Audits, directed to Mayor Nancy Bilicich (who the Controller believed was still mayor). The letter stated that their audits division had conducted an Audit of the City’s Special Gas Tax Street Improvement Fund and found that the City inappropriately transferred $122,970.00 of the ear marked money for street improvements to the General Fund, and that the City also had an “Ineligible expenditure” of $4,235.00 due to work completed which didn’t qualify as “street-related activity.” Mr. Browning included a Report outlining the results of the spot-check type Audit. The inappropriate transfer of money occurred, of course, during former City Manager Carlos Palacios’ tenure.
When I read the report what came to mind were how many pot holes could have been fixed with around $127,000.00. And if the $180,000.00 spent on “tires” in a 15 month period ending last year by the City were actually for legal claims of tire damage by people that collided with pot holes on Freedom Blvd. that in other cities would qualify as sinkholes.
Additionally, Browning wrote to Bilicich that on May 14, 2014, (almost two years ago) the City’s Finance Director and some members of the public works staff were provided an opportunity to contest the matter during an Exit Interview upon the Audit being completed. According to Browning the city staff didn’t take exception and instead immediately agreed to reinstate the funds. Then, seven months after the May 14, 2014 meeting, Palacios announced his resignation on December 3, 2014 to work for the County. Why did it take the State Controller almost two years to release their Report and notify the City of its findings? Could it be because additional investigations are in process and pending? And was this Audit the finality that pushed out Palacios from his palatial office with a panoramic view of the city which with his assistance was left in financial disarray?
I don’t know how many Federal and State funds for specific uses have been inappropriately transferred to our City’s General Fund, although I do know that the California Department of Finance (DOF) was of the opinion that the City inappropriately transferred $4.4 million from the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to the General Fund upon the State abolishing the agency. The DOF demanded and recovered the $4.4 million from the City but the City fought back and filed a lawsuit against the State and prevailed (which is another story).
As the result, I have little doubt that we have attracted the attention of Auditors both from the State and Federal level as we have a documented history of improper use of funds received from these government agencies intended for specific uses. Take for example, the “Missing Fire Truck”. The city issued a check for $225,000.00 received from a Federal Grant in 2008. Had I not initiated an investigation to determine the whereabouts of the truck almost 3 year later while a councilmember, I doubt the City would have purchased the ladder truck. And, at a later date, I also determined that the City of Pasadena (the previous owner) only valued the truck for around $20,000.00. According to a Florida based law firm, “Using taxpayer funds designated for a specific purpose to fill budget gaps elsewhere would likely violate a number of state and federal laws”, which may be a “clear violation of antifraud laws.” The law firm referenced Modoc County, California who was “ordered to repay more than 13 million of specifically earmarked money that it illegally misused.”
What is additionally concerning to me is that it may have taken Audits, Grand Jury investigations, a missing fire truck, an inappropriate loan to a female city employee to purchase a $365,000 townhome with Redevelopment Agency funds, an inappropriate $400,000.00 loan to a private citizen also with Redevelopment Agency funds, to convince former City Manager Palacios that it was time to bolt, instead of our City Council(s) taking the appropriate action. The City Charter legally authorizes the City Council to hire, evaluate, and terminate a City Manager, yet these jelly for spines group resorted to the See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, ideology.
The Pinocchio Syndrome Continues
On December 8, 2015, in the final city council meeting of 2015, newly Merry-Go-Round selected Mayor, Felipe Hernandez, stated that “We got our $4.4 million back to the city”. The $4.4 million that Mayor Hernandez referenced is the money the City coughed up to the California Department of Finance (DOF) after it was found they had questionably transferred this money from its Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to the General Fund when RDAs were abolished in 2012. But apparently the City filed a lawsuit and won. They were awarded a Judgement for the full $4.4 million by a Sacramento Superior Court judge. Although, according to City Clerk Beatriz Flores, who responded to several of my public records requests, the City has yet to receive one red-faced Lincoln cent. Flores wrote to one of my inquires: “On February 1st the City asked for $280,000 in its ROPS (Recognized Obligation Schedule) and will ask for additional funds next year as required by the State” What???
After several attempts to get a straight answer from the City regarding the full disclosure of the $4.4 million settlement without an appropriate response, I called the State’s Department of Finance. I spoke with Mr. Chis Hill who told me that the City settled with the State after the State threatened to file an Appeal when the City was awarded the judgement. He said that the State agreed to reimburse the City the $4.4 million but it would take “a very long time” before the City received all of its money. Well, if the City will be receiving $280,000 per year it will take almost sixteen years before we see the $4.4 million. That’s around the same amount of time that purportedly we’ll see the 2,000 promised jobs that the Manabe-Ow Business Park project is to produce. I wish Mayor Felipe Hernandez wouldn’t have misled the public because you know here in Watsonville they might just give him a nickname…Fiblipe?
Up In Smoke, or a Friend with Weed is a Friend Indeed?
Are you kidding me? The City is going to appoint an eleven member committee to approve a Marijuana Initiative and take 6 months to do it? What have they been smoking…well maybe I shouldn’t ask. And the process to select the Grass for Lunch Bunch is about as comical as some city council members were when they made this decision and almost broke out with a Kumbaya-sqe “Don’t Bogart that Joint my friend…” at the conclusion of the previous city council meeting.
And did you know that if you want to be selected to the Committee you first have to write a letter to Suzy Merriam of the Community Development Department stating why you should be selected. Ms. Merriam, who hopefully won’t be as selective as the department she works for, will then choose which people best qualify and send her recommendations to Mayor Fe (stop it now) lipe Hernandez who will decide who will be on the Committee.
I was thinking of writing a letter asking to be selected (A Parody).
First I want to say that the Strawberry costume you wear at the Strawberry Festival, year, after year, after year, after year, has brought back some memories. I can’t remember the last time I wore one but I think it was back in the 70s. I went to a party dressed in a large Kangaroo outfit and had a great time. But, when I woke up sometime the next morning on the floor, after a bout of the spinners, I found a baggie full of buds stashed in my marsupium. Well, as you can imagine, I have had some experience with the evil weed. Thus the reason I feel qualified to be on the Committee.
But, if you decide not to select me I would like to take the opportunity to provide you and the city council with some ideas. First you have to give the Committee a name. How about the “Bong Along to Get Along Committee”? And the City should reward the Committee with a gift bag. In it you can give out a year’s subscription of High Times, Visine, breath mints, a black light, a pack of Zig Zags, a Bic lighter of the color of their choice, and a half- ounce sample of Ethnobotanica’s finest. I know that this could prove to be costly and the City is down to stems and seeds, so maybe you want to pick up the phone and call you know who and ask which Funds can be concealed from an Audit….well, maybe you don’t want to do that unless your favorite color is orange. Hey…I know….pull 20K cash from the General Fund and say you’re going to use it to pay Bandas at the Strawberry Festival. Remember? And, you know what? In my appreciation for your consideration, I will contribute Watsonville Fishing Report T-Shirts to the Committee and City Council. They can wear them proudly. You see what a nice guy I can be?
Tu Amigo Para Siempre,
Our City Has a New Name?
I was surprised to read in the Santa Cruz Sentinel last week that Terry Medina resides in the “Pajaro Valley” in regards to him being selected as president by the Community Foundation. I have no idea who came up with the idea not to mention the “W” word……Wrong Way Watson?
Me? A Troublemaker?
I keep hearing rumors that a certain Community Development Department head references me as a trouble maker and that she complains that instead of portraying Watsonville in a positive image I tend to dwell on the negative. I beg to differ. This city employee may want to consider her own questionable history and our Ambassadors: the public. They are observant and render their own opinions verbally not only with other locals but with out of towners too, Except, they may not be as public and vocal; for good reason too…retaliatory tactics by this same city employed individual? Does this Community Development Department manager truly believe she can still rely on retaliatory tactics to conceal her “selective” making decisions? You know Ms. M.T. maybe it’s time for you to go too because three McDonalds may be your