Results of an investigation into the San Diego Association of Governments‘ over-estimation of revenues from a tax increase measure showed “no intent or deliberate effort” to deceive the public or the agency’s Board of Directors, SANDAG Chairman Ron Roberts said Tuesday.
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However, the president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, Haney Hong, said a segment of the report that deals with the deletion of documents showed a violation of the public trust.
The report prepared by an Orange County law firm stemmed from revelations that SANDAG staff knew before the November election that its financial projections for Measure A were faulty, but didn’t inform the board or public. Measure A was intended to raise the countywide sales tax by a half-cent to pay for transportation and environmental projects, but it fell short of the two- third necessary for passage.
After the problem with the economic projection was discovered, SANDAG’s board hired the firm of Hueston Hennigan to investigate what happened.
“It is clear from the Houston Hennigan report that there was internal conflict within SANDAG about the forecasting methodology, and that a month from the election there was concern about the accuracy of the final numbers, although the lead economist on Measure A continued to defend the projections up to and after Nov. 8, 2016,” Roberts said.
Among the many findings in the report, which was released Monday night and will be officially presented to the SANDAG board on Friday, was an over- reliance on one economist who had worked at SANDAG for many years.
According to Roberts, the source of the financial modeling error wasn’t discovered until two days after the election.
“The report also states on page 41 that investigators found no indication finance staff ever raised the issue of the Measure A forecast to SANDAG’s executive leadership until October 2016, indicating there had been no intent or deliberate effort to hide the information from the SANDAG board or voters,” Roberts also said.
The report goes into details about how the forecasting error occurred and when key players at SANDAG learned about the problem.
More troubling, the investigators found that SANDAG executives ordered documents related to the issue that were less than 60 days old to be deleted. The agency’s records retention policy states that preliminary drafts older than 60 days need to be kept for two years.
The meeting happened to take place on the day a reporter for the online news publication Voice of San Diego submitted a public records request regarding the projections. The get-together had been previously scheduled, according to the report.
“Revelations of SANDAG’s efforts to actively withhold and delete information clearly demonstrate a violation of the public’s trust,” Hong said. “Restoring this trust will be imperative if SANDAG leadership wishes to be effective.”
Hong said SANDAG should take corrective action at the staff and board levels to ensure the agency works “in service of taxpayer interests and not its own public image.”
His taxpayers group previously issued a handful of recommendations to the agency designed to improve governance.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, is pushing a bill through the Legislature that’s intended to reform SANDAG. Among other things, it would create an Audit Committee and grant more influence to the area’s largest cities — San Diego and Chula Vista.
SANDAG’s structure is codified by the state government.
The agency’s leaders, who oppose her bill, have floated the idea of placing their own reform package before voters next year.
–City News Service
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