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Report recommends 'standardized' process for use of discretionary funds


Saturday, July 26th, 2014
Issue 30, Volume 18.
Paul Young
Special to the Valley News


RIVERSIDE - Riverside County supervisors next week will consider recommendations in a staff report that calls for strengthening accountability measures connected with allocations from each supervisor's discretionary budget.

The Executive Office posted a 31-page analysis in response to grand jury findings published in early May on the Board of Supervisors' use of community improvement designation -- or CID -- funds. The matter will be taken up by the board Tuesday.

"The board's discretionary CID funding has helped to assist and stimulate community-based organizations and nonprofits, especially during the recent difficult times of the Great Recession and its impact on community organizations," according to an Executive Office statement.

"The board is proud of its modest CID investment ... Many worthy community efforts were sustained during the downturn, when nonprofits were closing their doors due to the recession."

Each supervisor has a CID account, with available funding varying in past fiscal years from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $3 million. Money can be allocated to nonprofit organizations, county agencies, community groups and other organizations for a variety of purposes -- as long as they have a discernable public benefit.

The county's 19-member civil grand jury earlier this year investigated allegations that supervisors had appropriated funds "to enhance their visibility and name identification with potential voters," and in some instances had provided money without any thorough vetting of the recipients' backgrounds or missions.

Jurors alleged supervisors had violated the California Political Reform Act and the county's guidelines regarding when and in what amount monies that can be dispersed, particularly in an election year.

The grand jury identified instances in which supervisors committed sometimes up to $10,000 to be named, individually, as a "sponsor" of a fundraiser.

Other times, according to the grand jury report, CID monies were disbursed to entities that claimed nonprofit status, when the California Attorney's General's Office had suspended the recipients' nonprofit exemption for irregularities. The grand jury pointed specifically to the 300-acre Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula as an example.

The colony is located in board Chairman Jeff Stone's district.

According to the report, $100,000 in CID funds was provided to the private retreat to build a half-mile driveway in 2009.

Jurors also highlighted occasions when CID appropriations were authorized by a four-fifths vote of the board with only scant descriptions of how the funds would be used.

Jurors scrutinized CID commitments that occurred as the county struggled through a recession, with mandatory furlough days for employees and many county offices closed Fridays to cut down on expenses.

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case in 2010, a supervisor allocated $25,000 to pay for the Riverside Community College Norco Choir to travel to South Africa to perform.

The grand jury questioned whether commitments were serving to keep the doors open at facilities where assistance was being provided as intended.

Allocations to the Colorado River Senior Center 30 miles north of Blythe were vetted, and jurors noted that $15,000 in CID funds had been spent since 2005 on a "low-cost meal program" open to the general public -- not seniors in need.

In addition to calling out supervisors for questionable use of taxpayer funds, jurors criticized the Executive Office for not applying greater scrutiny of how and for what CID funds have been appropriated.

In its response, the county defended the CID program generally, suggesting the $26.2 million in total allocations between July 2006 and this past May were justifiable and had not violated state or local rules intended to prevent unfair political practices.

However, the Executive Office acknowledged the need for increased scrutiny and more uniform standards to keep each board member on the same page when it comes to allocating discretionary money.

As for some of the grand jury's specific findings, the county report offered a different perspective.

The Dorland Arts Colony allocation was not motivated by "close personal or social relationships" with operators of the retreat, according to the Executive Office.

"CID support for the facility was provided at a time when community and nonprofit fundraising efforts had little success due to the recession," the report stated.

Similarly, the grand jury's criticism of funding for the Colorado River Senior Center stemmed from a misinterpretation of the facility's "overall purpose," county staff wrote.

"The center provides a wide array of ... vital services in a remote area to a fragile senior population that likely cannot travel ... for comparable services (in the nearest city)," according to the report.

The county saw no rationale for the grand jury's recommendation that "CID funds be processed through the Executive Office" instead of having individual supervisors stamping their names on the disbursals, thus gaining public "credit or recognition."

The Executive Office cited other recommendations that were overlapping and had already been implemented, but conceded that a new policy defining CID expenditures and the process by which proposed recipients qualify was desirable.

"The reported lack of systematic countywide oversight and a standardized application process creates valid concerns," the report stated. "This (grand jury) finding warrants board review and improvement to the CID program."

Supervisors are expected to give direction to county staff Tuesday.


 

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