By Nick Kipley
At last week’s meeting Council Member Terry Tornek had been particularly vocal about quickly getting to the bottom of the scandal. In a follow-up interview later on in the week, Tornek told the Independent, “I was a city employee… this is incomprehensible to me. I don’t know how so many people missed so many signals for so long. It’s horrifying.”
When asked if he thought that Wooten was working with just his accomplices or if he had more conspirators Tornek replied, “I think this is a guy (Wooten)—a fairly low to middle management guy—who figured out a way to exploit the system and became more brazen and careless over the years. But what we’re dealing with is a culture of complacency. Back in 1983, somebody decided that this [Underground Utilities Fund] didn’t need purchase orders. That innocuous bureaucratic seam allowed [Wooten] into the system. If everyone was doing his or her job this wouldn’t have happened. People were signing off on reimbursements for projects that hadn’t even been started yet. It was someone’s job to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, this can’t be right.’ But I don’t believe that everyone in the building is working this way.”
When asked if City Manager Beck might be forced to resign due to the tension felt in the council chamber last week Tornek said, “Oh yeah, of course. My volume of emails is accelerating, not diminishing.”
Councilmember Tornek claims that “Because wrongdoing went on for such a long period and because we on the council knew about it, there’s gonna be a response,” but, “the challenge right now is not to scapegoat, not to demonize, not to lay on so many procedures that we become paralyzed. We need to get our arms around this—we need to do it quickly—but it’s not going to be in a week.”
In an interview with Council Member Steve Madison on the role of the new ad hoc committee offered a different take on Tornek’s position, “Take everything Terry says with a grain of salt. Remember, he was on the oversight committee for municipal services… and that auditor issue.”
Councilmember Madison’s prepared statement of last Monday’s talking points better explains what he means when referring to when he mentions Tornek and the oversight committee, “I looked at some of the Municipal Services Committee agendas,” said Madison, “and there was a big report about the undergrounding program back in 2013, a year before. And one of the first things I read in that report that was presented at that Committee was that there was a surtax reserve balance of $2,372,000, and anticipated revenue of $5.4 million annually. Why weren’t the questions asked at that point, back in June of 2013, when we might have stopped a third of the money that was stolen? Because right there, that would jump off the page, and anyone would say, “Wait a minute, there’s only $2.4 million in the fund and we’re taxing $5.4 million annually? Where’s the money going?” [and] Do you know that two-thirds –well, one-third–of the money that was stolen was stolen in the last two years? And fully half of it was stolen in the last three years? So I don’t think any of us should be patting ourselves on the back about asking some questions in the eleventh year of a theft scheme.”
And “that auditor issue,” Councilmember Madison referred to comes from another section of his prepared notes from last Monday’s meeting: “We eliminated two internal auditor positions, and presumably that was a staff recommendation that came through the Finance Committee, and that was endorsed and supported and of course those auditors had not caught this for a number of years prior to 2011, but again one can’t help but wonder if we had those auditor positions, would they possibly have discovered this?”
When asked if a single auditor could go through all 131 of Pasadena’s various funds Madison responded, “Of course. An audit is a spot check. Someone could spend half a day on every one and learn plenty.”
What seemed consistent with both Madison and Tornek is that they both believed that Danny Wooten acted—for the most part—alone and they both expressed that they, “would be surprised,” if the four city employees under investigation were found out to have been acting in a criminal capacity.
At the beginning of this week’s council meeting, Mayor Bogaard made an announcement that Pasadena would be going after its stolen money and that three of the four city employees under investigation are now undergoing a criminal investigation headed by the District Attorney.
Working closely with the D.A., the mayor said, “We intend to pursue our responsibilities to the City and to the community aggressively, thoughtfully and thoroughly [and to] pursue appropriate remedies against the three defendants against whom proceedings have been initiated to the full extent of the law.”
The Mayor’s plan to do this involves forming an ad hoc committee designed to consolidate, “input and assistance from outside consultants and city staff in looking in to activities related to the embezzled funds as well as the extent to which the investigation leads to discovery of any problems with systems or payments beyond that particular fund.”
The Mayor also said that function of this committee would be required to work closely with the city attorney and any attorneys hired through that office in an effort to, “recover any of the funds that have been embezzled or otherwise improperly taken from the city.”
Mayor Bogaard then listed the members of the ad hoc oversight committee: Councilmember Steve Madison (chair), Councilmember Victor Gordo, Councilmember Margaret McAustin, and Councilmember John Kennedy.