By Nick Kipley
Following suggestions made in a 43-point audit report by KPMG (a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory service)., Pasadena City Council Monday elected to reconvene at a later date in order to form a committee on risk and corruption. Monday’s special meeting was called for after Danny Wooten, a former management analyst of Pasadena’s Public Works Department, allegedly stole $6.5 million from a taxpayer fund and directed it to the Southern California Evangelist Jurisdiction Center and the New Covenant Christian Fellowship Center in Pomona, claiming it was used to bury power lines in the city of Pasadena. In the wake of the scandal, many Pasadena’s residents were outraged by the council’s lack of accountability.
Brian Weiss voiced his opinion on this lack of accountability at the podium microphone, “I’m a taxpayer in this system and I’m mad as hell. […] Six-point-four-million disappears and nobody seems to be responsible except for the people who are in jail.”
Ms. Felecia Williams noted a different perspective, “It’s really sad to me that one person can overshadow, just, the really good work that one thousand nine-hundred and ninety-nine employees do,” adding, however, “Why was there one employee getting paid six figures to manage one fund? It should be multiple managers managing multiple funds. Because […] you get people looking in different funds and being able to compare them, and you also have cross-training with your employees so that they’re better trained when they move to the next management level.”
Of all the people who went up to the podium to speak, a general consensus begun to congeal: if any department head in the private sector were to lose millions of dollars he/she were personally responsible for, there would be no appearing before a committee with a Power Point presentation, a request for more personnel, and an explanation of one’s actions. “Heads would roll,” Council Member Steve Madison clarified succinctly.
Yet, despite the allusions to the private sector and the committee’s eventual decision to elect a third-party committee designed to provide accountability and assess, the tension over the lack of checks and balances in the embezzlement scheme could not be ignored.
City Manager Michael Beck’s presentation to the Council included the city’s response listed in an itemized format. Treating the City of Pasadena as a victim, Beck suggested that the city complete a personnel investigation within 60 days of the meeting, seek civil remedies to recover the funds, follow up with the city’s insurance carrier regarding their theft claim ($5 million limit), hire an internal auditor to ensure that going forward this would not happen while also, “Keeping an eye on the rear view mirror,” and finally expanding training and policy review across the organization.
Council Member Terry Torneck asked the question everyone wondered about, “How could this have happened?” He added that, “KPMG’s report lists the things that could go wrong. We didn’t have a shortage of regulations [before this happened]. Fundamental information was missing without a series of color-coded graphs and diagrams.”
Pasadena feels victimized by Wooten and the alleged others who were able to write checks and invoices for municipal work that had not been done, kick that money into certain non-profits (one of which’s address was listed as a mere post office box), and then claim accountability for the work that hadn’t been done because the person in charge of monitoring that work was also the same person doing the work.
City Manager Beck assured the Council that certain training measures that had once been elective would now become mandatory.
Council Member Madison stated, “A third of the monies were used appropriately, rounding, and two thirds were stolen [and] we in the community expect checks and balances to prevent a very unsophisticated scheme like this to take place. When I hear, ‘We need more training,’ what are we gonna do, say, ‘Hey, don’t steal six million dollars?’”
Towards the end of the meeting, an anonymous voice shouted: “Which one of you will get fired, and when?”