Great Park audit a cautionary tale

By Eric Woolery

While the city of Bell is the poster child for government run amok with taxpayer dollars, the recent revelations in the Great Park audit point to a similar litany of fiscal horror stories. Because of this, last November, 88.7 percent of Irvine voters approved a city charter amendment requiring an annual audit of Great Park funds and other measures to put the brakes on the Great Park money machine.

Too much politics and too little independent oversight of taxpayer dollars unraveled the carefully woven web of self-dealing in both Irvine and Bell. Things had to reach a crisis point for the citizens to finally step in and change the political playing field – but by then the damage was done and hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted.

In the case of Bell, the city manager was able to shuffle money to himself and his supporters by duping, at best (or bribing, at worst), the City Council. In the case of Irvine, the council majority was able to overstep its authority to muzzle staff because there was no independent third party to hold them accountable. The lesson learned in both cases is that politically independent financial oversight would likely have either prevented both disasters or at least brought them to a head years earlier.

This begs the question: Should financial oversight be entrusted only to a city council or to an independent third party that is neither beholden to the council or staff – but has the authority to examine and audit financial records, policies and procedures anytime? An elected treasurer or auditor-controller who reports directly to the people can be both an early warning system, if things start to go off track, and a source of independent analysis to help decision makers by providing unbiased analysis to support policy decisions.

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