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City Rejects Civil Grand Jury Report in Response Letter

The report released earlier this year called into question spending and accounting by the city and its former redevelopment agency. The city's official response disagrees with almost every assertion made by the grand jury report.

Former city of Imperial Beach Administrative Services Department Director Kathleen VonAchen (left) takes questions from Superior Court Judge William Dato (right). Photo credit: Khari Johnson
Former city of Imperial Beach Administrative Services Department Director Kathleen VonAchen (left) takes questions from Superior Court Judge William Dato (right). Photo credit: Khari Johnson

The city of Imperial Beach will vote Wednesday whether to approve an official response to a series of critical findings made in a report by the San Diego County Civil Grand Jury following an audit conducted within the last year. 

The report criticized city, redevelopment agency and redevelopment agency successor agency spending and accounting practices and concluded that the city "needs to take strong action to get their financial house in order."

The city called 20 of 21 facts or findings addressed in the 15-page response to the report inaccurate, misleading or incorrect. 

The Imperial Beach City Council, Mayor Jim Janney and City Manager are required by state law to issue an official response to San Diego County Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Trentacosta by Aug. 26. 

Instead the city issued a single letter on the behalf of all three parties. 

The report titled "Imperial Beach Finances – A City Under Stress" was released May 28. The audit was carried out by San Diego County accounting staff for the civil grand jury and stated that the city and redevelopment agency kept inaccurate legal services records and made several other mistakes in its accounting.

Among statements labeled facts by the grand jury that the city disagrees with:

  • The city continues to be dependent on redevelopment agency tax increments for a substantial amount of its operating budget.
  • Legal services were not properly recorded.
  • Redevelopment expenses were understated $1.7 million in fiscal year 2010-11.
  • Shared labor costs that allowed redevelopment funds to pay part of city salaries were inadequately accounted for and incorrectly reported.

The only fact or finding Janney in part agreed with is that the city's redevelopment agency accounting procedures were flawed, noting that "there is always room for improvement."

"The city partially agrees with this finding, although the city object to the use of the word 'flawed' which may have an unnecessarily harsh connotation not applicable to immaterial misstatements," the letter stated.

Several of the report's recommendations have already been implemented, the letter stated. The city does not intend to follow a recommendation that it study the amount of time spent on redevelopment activity versus city activity. 

The city also does not intend to follow a recommendation that it change how it classifies legal costs between the city and redevelopment activity, calling the step "unwarranted."

In April, in what is thought to be one of the first actions of its kind in San Diego, the city filed a temporary restraining order against the grand jury in April to block their ability to use specific records related to the city's legal fees. 

A Superior Court judge sided with the grand jury and lifted the restraining order at a court hearing month later.

Ed Kravitz August 21, 2013 at 05:37 PM
I double checked.~933.05 According to the Document it says that the Mayor must respond to the Presiding Judge on 13-83 through 13-91 City Manager Must Respond 13-83 through 13-91 City Council Must Respond to 13-83 through 13-91 (That looks like the individuals are to respond to the presiding judge over the Grand Jury points mentioned above). Not one response but, several individual responses. Better sharpen those pencils civic leaders. Term paper's are due on the 26th. Not just this one!
Jon Hall August 22, 2013 at 10:12 AM
Was at the meeting last night - wanted to hear about the asinine plans for 13th Street --- the place was empty --- Marcus gave his legalize it talk --- Dante spoke against the report --- but otherwise you could heart a pin drop from the lack of community involvement --- no wonder y'all are losing your town ...
Serge Dedina August 22, 2013 at 10:43 AM
As someone who runs a non-profit that receives annual audits (voluntary), we make every effort to comply with all recommendations made by auditors to always improve our financial management and oversight. This is critical for maintaining donor credibility and confidence and because it is always the correct and moral thing to do. The Mayor's inability to understand how reckless his position is clearly demonstrates his inability to provide any responsible governance or oversight of taxpayer monies as required by law.
Libi Uremovic August 22, 2013 at 11:42 AM
'...the place was empty --- --- no wonder y'all are losing your town ...' people pay for council to represent them so they don't have to take up their time .... council is supposed to represent the people, but they have fully abandoned that theory....
Jon Hall August 22, 2013 at 11:42 AM
I listened to the response last night - a few things struck me --- first, there was a finding of no Fraud (so even if there were mistakes it was ignorance not malice) --- second, the State of California DOF signed off on all the submissions as being correct --- third, it was stated the Civil Grand Jury report was based on erroneous data (no one ever stood to dispute this) --- which leads to this question --- just what is the issue here ???
Jon Hall August 22, 2013 at 11:44 AM
Just so you know --- as an lifelong local who happens to be an outsider looking in I am sickened by what I see happening to IB --- but what I see is the people in charge have a vision for the town that although I find revolting apparently the majority of the voters agree with ...
Jon Hall August 22, 2013 at 11:46 AM
Libi --- yes, they were elected to represent the interests of the voters --- and as I said above apparently the vast majority are pleased with the direction IB is going in ...
Dante Pamintuan August 22, 2013 at 11:48 AM
@Jon. Thanks for coming to the council meeting. The 13th Street project would also affect surrounding traffic patterns on to the eastern side of Imperial Beach and into San Diego. I think residents of San Diego should also have a say and speak up at the IB Council meetings. If you are unable to do so as a San Diego resident, I could give up my three minutes of time for you to speak. IB and SD are neighbors and we should be working to be better neighbors. And Jon, you are right. We deserve what we get. Apathy and lack of citizen participation can be a great breeding ground for abuse of power, misappropriation of funds, potential graft, entitlements, laziness, waste, fraud and abuse. If someone takes advantage of this situation when no one is looking it leads to a point of no return. A good conscience only exists within the context of the individual and their creator. @Serge. You hit the nail on the head with regards to why I was opposed to the language of the letter that Greg Wade and Ms. Lyons-City Attorney wrote up for the Mayor and Council. The language, tone and response of the overall letter was arrogant and defensive. I suggested to the council to tone it down and show some appreciation for third party and objective auditors such as the Civil Grand Jury, consisted of a panel of financial analysts that volunteered to take the time to suggest better accounting techniques and procedures. The Mayor and Council should lead with their own language in their own separate responses as requested by the presiding Judge. To have Mr. Wade and Ms. Lyons "spin" out a document for a one letter response from the Mayor, City Council, and City staff does not show gratitude or appreciation for what the Civil Grand Jury found. It shows poor leadership, poor judgement, poor people skills and poor communication. Sometimes, we have to eat humble pie. And sometimes it tastes very good for the soul. Thanks for your input Serge. The BEST is before us IB.
Marcus Boyd August 22, 2013 at 11:52 AM
@Jon Hall, there is no legal avenue for a civil grand jury "rebuttal" to the city's letter of denializm. As you noticed, they simply disagreed with the "Findings" a.k.a. the evidence that they themselves were forced to present to the grand jury. Remember the "Restraining order ordeal"? So, what the grand jury found - if you were to ask them - is a reason to vote them out of office - it's the only real recourse. Unless the San Diego Criminal Grand Jury hands down an indictment. In other words, last night the staff's reply was; "We don't know what you are talking about - and you can't do anything about it - so there!" It's the same thing they said to the civil grand jury in 2010. I'll post the link below for your reference.
Libi Uremovic August 22, 2013 at 11:57 AM
'...second, the State of California DOF signed off on all the submissions as being correct --- third, it was stated the Civil Grand Jury report was based on erroneous data (no one ever stood to dispute this) --- which leads to this question --- just what is the issue here ??? ...' the issue is that your city lies to you and you believe it every time... the state froze the city's assets ....which is why 9th & palm is a whole in the ground and the reason the city couldn't sell the sports park... the state of cali didn't 'sign off' - they stepped in....
Libi Uremovic August 22, 2013 at 12:00 PM
'... The Mayor and Council should lead with their own language in their own separate responses as requested by the presiding Judge....' janney stated he 'could of' made his own statement, but was advised not to.... separate responses were requested from the city manager, mayor, and council....but one response was written - by the cockroach....
Libi Uremovic August 22, 2013 at 12:06 PM
as the city attorney pointed out - it was a civil grand jury, not a criminal grand jury....
Serge Dedina August 22, 2013 at 01:39 PM
Dante: Agreed--the language and tone of the response is shocking. And also as someone who raises money for my organization I need to be 100% due diligent in demonstrating to donors that our monies are managed wisely and we are meeting our mission and grant/donation requirements. So the City as well needs to be very humble and demonstrate that it is committed to managing tax dollars to the highest standards. The City's response just looks really bad--and that is not good. Small cities that are dependent on outside agencies for financial support cannot afford to look like they are not interested in being excellent stewards of tax dollars or arrogantly rebut oversight and governance. This is another self-inflicted wound by the City. And as for showing up to Council meetings--when we do show up--we are ignored and disrespected. That is why the Council meetings are empty. The City has no credibility as an honest broker--and until the City is perceived as honest broker that is committed to transparency and welcomes citizen participation people will abstain from participating in council meetings.
Tom Summers August 22, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Our job as concerned citizens of IB, whether we attend council meetings regularly or not, or even if we spend the majority of our time in town or not, is to see that these shirkers of homework and deniers of reality, are swept out of office. Grand Juries, whether civil or criminal, are not to taken lightly. These folks have thumbed their noses at the Grand Jury. They've shamed us as a city. Whether or not there has been malfeasance in regard to RDA funds and in other areas (and I certainly have my own opinions on this), this response is inadequate and unacceptable.
Marcus Boyd August 22, 2013 at 04:03 PM
"as for showing up to Council meetings--when we do show up--we are ignored and disrespected" And that's the honest truth! I pride myself as being a confident speaker to a friendly audience, however my past treatment when speaking to the council has me timid - while constantly expecting the mayor to rudely interrupt and yell at me whenever my words strike a cord within him. And the later it gets, the worse he gets. Clearly he needs something in the evenings to calm his fragile nerves.
Jon Hall August 22, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Libi --- if what you say is ture then the place to present the facts, figures, and documents is at a City Council meeting --- this way it would be put into a public record --- as it is now your statements are nothing more than a rant --- and the answers, from Wade & others, are the ONLY thing in the record --- if you have proof quit ranting --- stand up and show it to the world ...
Jon Hall August 22, 2013 at 07:20 PM
As far as the Mayor goes --- I did notice he has the council members intimidated --- they all fell into line last night like good little minions are supposed to do --- and the "respectfully second" crack by whoever that was next to Bilbray was very professional --- and a slap at Dante and the other councilman ...
Jon Hall August 22, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Lastly we have Bilbray --- it was sad to see him be pushed around like that --- he caved in on the 13th Street issue --- his idea for the report was laughed off ................ it is obviously he has no respect from his peers --- guess the name is all that he inherited --- Brian would not have let anyone disrespect him that way ...
Libi Uremovic August 22, 2013 at 07:26 PM
'...place to present the facts, figures, and documents is at a City Council meeting ...' i exhausted my means on a local level last year - i don't have to waste my time with the locals or county agencies any more....
Libi Uremovic August 22, 2013 at 07:44 PM
i never went to the grand jury and county d.a. because i expected them to do their job - i had to exhausted all means on a local level before the state could legally step in.... the grand jury originally sent me a 'dear jane' letter and refused to open a case - that allowed me to appeal to the state attorney general's office... the state controller's office had already contacted me and was receiving the audits ... about 3 weeks after i contacted the state attorney general's office i received 2 phone calls on the same day - one from the auditing team from the state controller's office telling me they were in town, had been in town all week, and wanted to meet with me the next week..... the 2nd phone call was from the grand jury wanting me to testify ...when i mentioned that they had already throw out my complaint their reply was: 'we've reconsidered'..... the only reason the grand jury opened a case was because they were ordered to from the state, but now that the city has rejected all of the grand jury the state has the legal right to intervene...
Libi Uremovic August 22, 2013 at 07:56 PM
'...and as I said above apparently the vast majority are pleased with the direction IB is going in ... ' people get so isolated they don't realize how much they've deviated from the norm.... if it wasn't for the treatment of kids i would have never gotten involved, but i can't handle child neglect & abuse....
Jon Hall August 23, 2013 at 10:04 AM
Libi --- as I have said before I have *no skin in this game* and can only form an opinion based on what I see in the public record --- your claim that there is a State investigation going on is nothing more than words in a post --- I have yet to see it substantiated by anyone (if I missed the4 story(ies) please link them here) ...
Jon Hall August 23, 2013 at 10:07 AM
Oh, one other thing --- if you somehow think the State is honest, straightforward, and always thinking of the electorate when spending money I have some ***Oceanfront property in Arizona*** you may be interested in ...
Libi Uremovic August 23, 2013 at 11:19 AM
'... I have yet to see it substantiated by anyone ...' did you see the letter from the state regarding 9th & palm ? the state stepped in a year ago and froze the city's assets ... you represent the new ameika - scrutinize the truth & disregard facts; attack anyone that goes against the government..... but believe & justify lies and attack & demonize anyone that doesn't go along with the lie.... no, it's not reference to russia - it is not russia that has lied and fed propaganda to the american people ....it is not russia that has corrupted our government ... it is ourselves.... the 'k' in amirika means faux .... phoney....artificial.....not real....
Jon Hall August 23, 2013 at 12:02 PM
You know when you personally insult me and stoop to name calling instead of answering the questions it only reinforces the outward appearance of instability others have alluded to (BTW: this is the most polite way I could think of to tell you to FOAD) ...
Libi Uremovic August 23, 2013 at 01:50 PM
there's nothing i can say to you because you can't hear ....you're head's been programmed with so much crap you can't see or hear reality... you're mad at me because you feel stupid that you believed lies....too bad for you - i'm not the one that lied to you, so get over yourself... and i don't know what 'foad' means...
Serge Dedina August 23, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Hey Guys: Why not stick to discussing issues and stop attacking each other. Let's all try to be civil. People can disagree with each other, but stick to issues and stay away from insults and personal attacks. Cheers, Serge
Dante Pamintuan August 23, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Thank you Serge. Leadership promotes unity not division. We are all in this together. Respectful debate usually leads to positive change. For the survival of our IB PATCH, it also adds credibility.
Libi Uremovic August 24, 2013 at 07:40 AM
the issue is that the government has programmed people to believe lies & deceit that go against the basic premise of democracy and the laws of god ... there are many counties in the world that are designed for people to be controlled by religion & government, but the states isn't one of them.... democracy takes a little more work than signing up for government subsidies and watching 6 hours of news/infomercials that support whatever 'blame the other person' ideology feeds the fantasy they want to hear....
Tom Summers August 24, 2013 at 10:22 AM
I'm with Serge, Dante and Marcus. This is one of the best ways to participate in public discourse that I have at my disposal. There isn't time or means in my life to attend council meetings, and I have no need to witness snipping between participants. This is a very good forum, and I think a possible force for change. Let's use it to our best advantage. Thanks.

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