Monday, July 2, 2012

Has the (San Bernardino) grand jury at last cleared the air?

July 02, 2012 12:29 PM
Steve Williams, Opinion Page Editor

In January 2010, recently elected Victorville Mayor Ryan McEachron called for a forensic audit of the city’s books by the San Bernardino County Grand Jury. He did so because of persistent rumors and news stories that corruption and fraudulent conduct was going on at City Hall, and the grand jury was already at least nine months into a probe into the city’s operations.

What Mayor McEachron sought, we’re certain, was to clear the air surrounding the city’s operation and to make the public aware of any untoward conduct by city officials and contractors regarding city business.

Friday the grand jury released its report. Did it clear the air? Not exactly, although what it apparently did do was to bring to an end any expectations by Victorville residents and city employees that as a result of the grand jury’s findings, any criminal indictments by the district attorney would be forthcoming.

No charges in store

We’re relieved to learn that, as far as the grand jury is concerned, no city officials will be charged with criminal behavior. The last thing the city's residents needed was to find out City Hall was a nest of corruption. On the other hand, we, along with the rest of the valley, have been following Daily Press coverage of this long-running story, and we’re gratified that the grand jury report contained nothing our readers hadn’t already learned in these pages.

That said, we continue — and we’re sure our readers feel the same — to be more than a little disappointed that the city, at the height of the economic boom, embarked on a series of business development ventures that proved in the end to be not only misguided, but financially dangerous.

We’ve listened as more than one city official — elected and appointed — has told us that “mistakes were made” regarding those ventures. Indeed they were, and if the city was a private firm operating in the private sector, we’d give the whole thing a “tsk, tsk,” and move on.

This is tax money

But it’s not private. It’s a taxpayer-funded entity, and it’s there to serve those taxpayers by making prudent, conservative decisions about using that tax money. In too many instances, prudence was not the watchword; risk was, even though it may not have appeared so at the time.

The financial burden on taxpayers that resulted will take years to relieve, and during those years city services and infrastructure will suffer (meaning city and valley residents will not enjoy the conveniences and services they’ve paid for). That’s simply bad management by government, which from our libertarian viewpoint is not excusable.

In the wake of the report, Mayor McEachron was quick to point out that, “I think it focuses on a lot of things that have already been reported on. A lot of (the grand jury’s) recommendations are things that we are already doing.”

The other probe

What he didn’t say, but what city officials are very aware of (as are our readers, who’ve read about it in these pages) is that the federal Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting its own probe, and neither the Daily Press nor the city has any idea what may result from that investigation. And, of course, no one ever will unless the SEC files charges and makes the whole thing public. If it finds nothing wrong, it will simply move on to something else, leaving the public (you know, taxpayers) uninformed. We don’t much like that, either, speaking of libertarian views.

At least the grand jury has wrapped up things on its end, finally admitting after three years of looking that there was nothing to find except bad management. But of course we all knew that already.

And now, after having forced Victorville taxpayers to spend another $300,000 (according to current City Manager Doug Robertson), the grand jury does too.

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