By Christina Shea
The recent report from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee reminds me of the wonderful Groucho Marx line, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
For eight months, the state auditor poked, prodded, plowed through Irvine’s books looking for misdeeds. They proved Groucho was right.
As hard as the state’s finest accountants looked, the missing $250 million spent by the prior city council on Great Park planning still remains somewhere between Irvine and Seattle in D.B. Cooper’s backpack.
The city’s 2015 audit found some of it, but taxpayers were woefully harmed fiscally and misled.
After nearly a decade of fumbling the Great Park opportunity, Irvine’s voters decided it was time for a change in 2012.
In large part, the old guard that squandered the money was tossed out of office and replaced with fiscally responsible council members committed to building the Great Park. Taxpayers demanded the council find out how the $250 million was spent, since there was so little to show for it.
The City Council initiated an audit review of the prior decade of Great Park spending in January 2013. We retained outside legal counsel from Aleshire and Wynder, the legal team who exposed the fraud in the city of Bell, and retained the HSNO accounting firm, and began peeling back the layers of consulting redundancy and suggested Great Park mismanagement.
The council established a subcommittee of Councilman Jeff Lalloway and me to monitor the process and report to the public in public meetings. Depositions were posted online, for full transparency to the public.
As you can imagine, the beneficiaries of the $250 million were not happy. Consulting firms refused to produce documents, lawyered up and obfuscated at every opportunity. We ultimately were forced to use the city’s subpoena power to secure documents. What we thought would be a straightforward review of expenditures became a battle of lawyers driving up the cost and slowing down the process.