Santa Ana in the Red and Cooking the Books?

Budget

The City of Santa Ana is facing a significant budget shortfall for the current fiscal year. Estimates presented at the last City Council meeting peg the amount somewhere between $20 and $30 million. Rumors have the estimates rising as time progresses. While $30 million is a lot of money, it is still less than 10% of the overall city budget. The problem for Santa Ana is that they have already significantly reduced non-public safety staffing to critically low levels. There really isn’t anywhere left to cut. There are also no longer any reserves of cash lying around to plug the hole.

In the process of poking around to find out how the City engaged in a recruitment process for City Manager without any formal direction from the City Council I think I may have stumbled on to a systematic problem for the City as it tries to stop the hemorrhaging of its budget. They don’t seem to be following any of the controls in place to manage the millions of dollars in professional services contracts on their books.

Several weeks ago I requested a copy of the City’s contract with Bob Murray and Associates for the City Manager Recruitment. I was told, more than a month after the application period for the City Manager recruitment had closed, that there wasn’t one in place and that the contract was not available because it had not been returned from the vendor with signature.

I asked how the search was initiated without a contract and was told that the Executive Director of Personnel Services had piggy-backed the City Manager search with the City Attorney search. I asked if there were any amendments in writing and I was told that there were none, that the instructions to the vendor were transmitted verbally without any written instruction. That contract ended on June 30, 2011.

So I asked for all the invoices submitted by Bob Murray and Associates and discovered that $30,258.49 in expenditures had been incurred by the contractor on a contract that, by ordinance, was not to exceed $25,000 during the fiscal year. I was told that the contractor had not exceeded the expenditures allowed because the City didn’t include the $6,387.92 in invoices in the total because the invoices were dated after the close of the year.

Well, that explanation doesn’t really fit with the way contracts work. Contracts, like the one in question, tell the contractor that they are to invoice for services provided during the contract period after they are performed. Simply put, its like how you get paid for the last week of work in June when your time sheet is due on the first Friday in July. Just because you submitted your timesheet on the first of July, doesn’t mean that you worked all those hours on the first of July.

Finance Director Francisco Gutierrez however is sticking to his guns claiming that even though $6,043 in services were performed between May and the end of June, they really were performed in between July 1st and July 15th the date of the invoice and therefore are covered under a new contract for the new fiscal year. That contract had not even been submitted to the vendor for signature at the time the invoice was dated.

“The administrative practice utilized for the management and tracking of expenditures relating to agreements is done by invoice date unless otherwise directed,” Gutierrez wrote in an email. “In terms of City agreements, there is no requirement that the modified accrual method [as specified in the City’s Consolidated Annual Financial Report] be used for the tracking of expenditures.”

Basically, he’s saying the City is having its cake, and eating it too.

There is no reason for contracted services not to be accounted for in the accounting period when they occur. To do otherwise negates the rationale for setting a term of service for a contract. The only reason I can find for their actions is that the City is trying to hold the invoices for services provided in the year ending Jun 30, 2011 until the new year begins in order to conceal the fact that those services were performed without a contract and/or that the services provided by the contractor exceeded the amount allowed before a contract must be presented to the City Council for approval. This is appropriately called  “Cooking the Books.”

It appears that there is no oversight to assure that contractors are not allowed to perform services that they don’t have a contract to perform. In the case of Bob Murray and Associates, they started the recruitment for the City Manager position without any contract in place authorizing the work. The contract for the City Attorney recruitment specifically prohibited any modification without written authorization, and none exists.

By permitting the contractor to perform work essentially off the books the City allowed the contractor to exceed the scope of their contract and the value authorized by more than 20%. If this could happen with a high profile contract like the recruitment to fill two of the top city management positions, how many other contracts have similar cost overruns?

Since there is no supervision by an experienced City Manager, there is no way to know for sure how deep and pervasive this lack of control is. What I do know is the Finance Director appears to have no problem picking and choosing how he accounts for contract expenditures. He doesn’t appear to be using any generally accepted accounting principle other than the “whatever covers his ass” principle. Only by accurately tracking the expenditures on City contracts, and recording those costs in the proper time period, can you see what position the City is in financially. Using the method the City is telling me, they could have started the new year in the hole without even knowing it. This might partly explain how the City is already in the hole $30 million dollars two months into the year.

I’m beginning to worry that the problem for the City of Santa Ana is more than a revenue and expenditure problem. It appears to be a management problem.

Such is life in the Banana Peel Republic of Santa Ana.

  5 comments for “Santa Ana in the Red and Cooking the Books?

  1. State Attorney General should investigate
    September 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    So Santa Ana spends $30,258.49 on a soul source vendor without a legally required signed contract or without putting it out to bid as required by law because it exceeds $25,000?

    Sec. 2-806. – Procurement of materials, supplies, labor, and equipment in excess of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00).

    All contracts involving an expenditure in excess of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) for materials, supplies, labor, and equipment shall be let to the lowest responsible bidder in accordance with procedures established by the purchasing manager. Those procedures shall provide for at least the following: (a)
    Public notices inviting bids shall include a general description of the things to be purchased and the time and place for bid opening. Adequate public notice of the invitation for bids shall be given a reasonable time prior to the date set forth therein for the opening of bids, in accordance with regulations established by the purchasing manager. To the extent that public notice is by way of publication in a newspaper of general circulation, such publication shall be for at least two (2) days, the first of which shall be at least ten (10) days before the date set for opening bids.

    (b)
    Invitation of bids shall be mailed or transmitted by other means established by the administrative code but not recited over the telephone or in person. Any interested bidder may obtain an invitation for bid.

    (c)
    All bids shall be submitted sealed in accordance with the instructions contained in the “Invitation for Bid” form.

    (d)
    The bids shall be opened in public, at the time and place stated on the “Invitation for Bid.” All bids shall be publicly declared

    Hello major media!!! The management has been and continues to break the law and waste our hard earned tax dollars. Dig deep and you will see the corruption, fraud and waste, just like the city of bell.

  2. State Attorney General should investigate
    September 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Public Contract Code 20116/20657 prohibits the splitting of a contract into smaller contracts to avoid competitive bidding.

    “It shall be unlawful to split or seperate into smaller work orders or projects any work, project, service or purchase for the purpose of evading the provisions of this article requiring contacting after competitive bidding.”

    Chapter 897 of the Statues of 1995 clarified the prohibition against bid splitting to avoid competitive bidding by amending California Public Contract Code section 20116 to include a prohibition against splitting into smaller work orders or projects not only any project, but also any work, service or purchase.

  3. Your getting hotter
    September 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    How long have you guys been disecting SA and you are now seeing the shell game? WE have been doing this for years and years. Us SA employees don’t/can’t believe anything about a financial short fall. The story of the boy who cried wolf comes to mind. Every year we hear, we have no money. Every year we say show us your which shell the money is not under. WOW, low and behold, they accidenly turn over the wrong shell and we have money again.
    Keep seeking and you shall find!

  4. just asking?
    September 30, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Forward the response to Santa Ana’s auditor’s. I’m sure either practice is legal, but it is misleading to use selective practices when it serves only to circumvent established policy. Prior year books usually don’t close until early or mid-September for just these reasons.
    just…asking?

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