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Council Approves Free Money?

In a recent event in the topsy turvy world of Council logic, they approved payment for services some on the dais claim were not rendered. Believe it or not, this is not a generally accepted accounting process.

At the Nov. 21 City Council and Stadium Authority concurrent meeting Vice Mayor Dominic Caserta questioned Mayor Lisa Gillmor about her involvement with Pete Hillan of Banner Public Affairs. In his questioning, he points to a specific line on Hillan’s timesheet of May 29—the line reads, “Draft op-ed, agenda for prep with Mayor Gillmor before SF Chronicle op-ed board; align logistics with Gillmor, Chron’s Lois Kazakoff.”

Here is their exchange:

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Caserta: “My next question is Banner charging about $400-$450 an hour. Through the PRA we also found out that they are asking our taxpayers to pay [for] 10 hours of drafting an op-ed for the Mayor and the Chronicle… How does it serve the citizens of Santa Clara to be charged north of $5,000 to draft an op-ed by a person chosen in informal process to benefit the residents of Santa Clara and…”

Gillmor: “I wanna say for the record that didn’t happen. There was no drafting an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle. For the record.”

Caserta: “So Mr. Hillan says in his notes said that he met with you and he did that. So either someone is not telling the truth…”

Later in the meeting, Council Member Pat Mahan brings up the discrepancy.

“We just heard from the Mayor that it didn’t happen that they helped with the op-ed piece,” said Mahan. “So just in the first invoice I count about 8 hours where they’re billing us for drafting the op-ed piece and appearing with the op-ed board and all of that. So did that really happen? In which case obviously it’s under their contract, or did it not happen?

“I don’t know,” responded City Manager Deanna Santana.

Mahan continued to ask if the invoices should be gone through to see if there was more work that hadn’t been done. She said she wanted to pay them for work they actually did.

So did Hillan draft the San Francisco Chronicle’s op-ed or didn’t he? Since the Council voted to approve the invoices, we guess it doesn’t really matter anymore.

That night Council Member Debi Davis refused to split her motion after requests from Mahan. If she had split her motion, all other finances would be approved, but Banner’s portion would be paid based on an investigation of the invoices.

But for some reason, the Mayor and her allies seemed to be in such a rush to pass the motion that it appears a necessary investigation into these invoices would seem to be too much to ask.

So, Santa Clara’s taxpayers’ dollars were just given away for invoices that seem to be inaccurate.

According to the May 29 line item on Hillan’s time sheet, he did draft the op-ed piece. In fact, he billed the City 2 hours ($900) for that specific line item—though there are more relating to the Chronicle.

With almost a thousand dollars of Santa Clara taxpayer money being disputed, why did the Council vote to approve paying Banner? Caserta was the only Council Member to vote against the motion. Mahan ended up voting for the motion but also added a comment for the record with her yes vote to express her reservations about approving the money for Banner without reviewing the invoices.

In an act to close the barn door after the cow is already out, the City Attorney Brian Doyle stated that he and the City Manager would still review the invoices.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s the principle of the thing,” said Mahan.

Yes, it isn’t a lot of money, but with one inaccuracy, there could be more—then it could be a lot of money.

Furthermore, isn’t it troubling that there are inconsistencies between what the Mayor is saying and what Hillan has documented?

At least Hillan has documented something. Mayor Gillmor’s name is listed on the May 29 line item but, unfortunately, he is not listed at all on her Council calendar. If only someone had been being more detailed with documenting their time, the residents would be able to see the transparency they always advocate instead of just hearing about it.

Circling back to the contract troubles the Weekly uncovered, if Banner had a contract in May—when the discrepancy is—they would have billed within 30 days and the City would have had time to reconcile any problems and issue payment, according to Santana. However, that didn’t happen. The contract was not official until July 17 and the invoices were submitted in August—three months after the work was done.

Interestingly, the reason Banner was asked to do work prior to a contract was because the City needed their expertise so urgently. The disputed line item is on Hillan’s first invoice and so are many other line items detailing Chronicle-related work. So what was the rush all about, if not for an article the Mayor claims Hillan didn’t help with, then what?

 

We’d like to hear from you. To share your thoughts about this or other topics, please email your letter to scweekly@ix.netcom.com for publication.

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