Grand Jury Report- Effective or a Waste of Taxpayer Money?

By Nikki Garrett Metzger

(Victorville) – The city is all abuzz today because the grand jury released its findings on a 3-year investigation on the City of Victorville Friday afternoon. While some have called the report cause for concern, others point out there really isn’t any new information that was uncovered.

The report, which was prepared by Harvey M. Rose and Associates, focuses on 5 areas of concern: the city’s financial condition, inter-fund loans and use of restricted funds, power plant developments, SCLA hangar developments, and SCLA authority bond expenditures.

Mayor Ryan McEachron, who originally asked for the forensic audit in 2009, commented on the Grand Jury’s findings, “I asked for this, I’m glad it is finally out. I think it focuses on a lot of things that have already been reported on. A lot of their recommendations are things that we are already doing. Ultimately we will respond to this as is required for us to do.”

The city has until Sept 29th to respond to the report.

“I think this report has a lot of valid points in it. It addresses a lot of issues that occurred in the past when times were good, and it addresses a lot of decisions that were made without enough due diligence. The report does not seem to indicate that anybody was doing anything criminal or fraudulent,” McEachron said.

The mayor did address the portion of the report that pointed out $13 million that cannot be accounted for in the development of hangars at the Southern California Logistics Airport. “That has been widely publicized and widely looked at. The city has considered whether or not it would go after the former contractor, but he has claimed multiple bankruptcies so it would be difficult for us to do.”

Councilmember Mike Rothschild also commented on the report, “The Grand Jury spent 3 years looking for criminal and illegal activity and none was found, none whatsoever. They hired a firm to write up the report and the firm did its job. The City has done everything it can to get through this crisis just like every other city and I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

Rothschild continued, “We are paying down our debts – we have a municipal electrical utility that is paying down our debt on the airport, and after the debt is paid down that becomes the City Council’s general fund monies. We also have a lawsuit that has approximately $60 million in escrow. At the end of the year, hopefully, the final appeal will be done and the City will receive that money. It will in turn go toward paying down additional debt as well as money going into our general fund.”

Rothschild acknowledged that the SEC is looking into the city’s accounting practices, but he points out that no indictments have been handed down.

“We’re doing well, we have a balanced budget this year, I’m not sure how many cities in the state have that claim, but we do. We have a little bit, not much, but a little bit in extra as well. So, as we sit here today we’re making all of our payments and we’re doing fine,” said Rothcschild.

Local businessman Joe Brady reacted to the report as well. “We all realize that mistakes were made many years ago, and there’s nothing we can do to reverse those mistakes. The one thing we can do is control what we do tomorrow.”

“What happens in Victorville has a dramatic effect in the surrounding cities,” Brady continued. “And we need to ensure that our perception – in the world investment marketplace and in the marketplace where the investors are – is not tainted by this. We need to figure out a way to collectively, amongst all the leaders within the region, prevent that from happening. There’s nothing we can do about what happened yesterday. Those days are over, so now we’ve got to get on with it.”

Brady focused on the fact that the findings of the report and the negative headlines associated with it are not helpful to the High Desert economy. “My big concern is that there are some people, not a lot but some, that are somewhat glad that this happened. It doesn’t do anybody any good; this is not one of those things that are a win-win. We need to all come together as a region and we need to rally around our elected officials and be sure this doesn’t happen again.”

On the city’s website City Manager Doug Roberson wrote in a press release about the Grand Jury’s report, “While the report is highly critical of past City management practices and the City’s current financial condition, it does not indicate any evidence that corruption, fraud or other crimes have occurred. Certainly the findings and conclusions set forth in the report are cause for concern. Many of the recommendations were implemented previously and the City is committed to making every effort to continue to implement recommendations which will continue to ensure the economic stability of the City.”

Read more about the report and the City’s response at http://ci.victorville.ca.us/

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