Under fire for asking the right questions – Orange County Register

In idyllic Laguna Niguel, the city I love, processes are broken and taxpayers have been cheated. What happens if a plumber quotes you $140 to repair a leaky sink and you agree to the price? If he later presents you with a $300 bill, would you pay it? Of course not! The contract was for $140 and you owe not a penny more. Nobody pays a distorted bill, except the city of Laguna Niguel under its former city manager.

This paper has praised the independent audit procedures adopted while I was on the City Council. Our unique process empowers the mayor to independently select an audit item. As mayor, I requested a deep dive into payments from the city to West Coast Arbors. We now know taxpayers have been fleeced.

In October 2015, the city contracted with WCA for tree trimming services at $140,000 annually. In the first contract year, the city was billed — and paid — more than $300,000. Paying a contractor more than what is owed violates the California Constitution’s Article 11. Further, this money is better spent on public safety, schools and other priorities. I believe the city must only pay what is called for in the contract and, on behalf of the taxpayers, claw back all overpayments. My colleagues and the city attorney disagree.

The WCA web page states they service municipalities with no mention of residential offerings. Yet, in September 2016, when the city had already paid $75,000 over the contract, the city manager “hired” WCA to work at his private residence. Taxpayers must know if highly compensated employees are leveraging their control of the public purse to solicit improper benefits from city vendors. Was fair market value paid? The public will never know because the conduct of the $230,000 former city manager — who oversaw the excess payments — is not the subject of an investigation.

Instead, my colleagues called for a July 24 special meeting and voted to squander taxpayer money investigating whether I was a bully during the audit process. I…

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