The TV news story about last week’s City Council’s Ad Hoc Stadium Audit for Measure J Committee was truly one Santa Clarans wouldn’t hear anywhere else but KPIX Channel 5. That’s because the San Francisco-based TV channel and candidate for police chief Patrick Nikolai appear to be the sole invitees to the meeting.
The meeting wasn’t listed on the City of Santa Clara website. It wasn’t held in City Council Chambers. Instead, the committee met in the adjacent conference room, which isn’t equipped for video or audio recording. And the only record is the private property of KPIX.
KPIX’s story, titled “Audit Shows Taxpayers Covering Some Levi’s Stadium Operating Costs,” features about 25 seconds of the actual meeting. In it Mayor Lisa Gillmor asks the auditor, Harvey Rose Associates Principal Fred Brousseau, for a ballpark estimate of how money hadn’t been billed to the 49ers, and Brousseau replies he can’t provide one at this point in the audit.
Gillmor repeatedly pressed the auditor to state a number on camera, saying, “Are we talking tens of thousands of dollars? Are we talking millions?”
So how did a San Francisco-based TV channel learn about a meeting that Santa Clara residents would have almost no way of knowing about? Simple. He got a personal invitation.
KPIX reporter Kiet Do said he received a phone call inviting to a meeting that would disclose “preliminary audit findings” about Levi’s Stadium. But Brousseau said he wasn’t told KPIX would at the meeting; which he described as a routine status meeting, not a report of findings.
Do declined to say who invited him to the meeting, which was attended by Committee Members – Gillmor, Council Members Patrick Kolstad and Teresa O’Neil, City Manager Rajeev Batra – Brousseau, and candidate for police chief Patrick Nikolai.
SCPD Chief Michael Sellers wasn’t at the meeting, saying the first he was informed about it by KPIX’s phone call asking for comment.
When the WEEKLY telephoned Brousseau for comment on Sept. 16, he emailed Mayor Gillmor, asking how she wanted him to respond to media inquiries and saying he was “happy to talk to them about the work we are doing and what we’ve publicly reported to the Ad Hoc Audit Committee,” according to emails obtained by the WEEKLY.
Gillmor replied, “at this point all calls of inquiry from the press should be referred to the City.” As of press time, the City hasn’t responded to the WEEKLY’s request for information about the meeting or the audit.
City Records Show Stadium Time-Tracking Direction Far From Lacking – First Accounts Set Up in 2011
The WEEKLY has obtained a copy of Brousseau’s report to the committee, accompanied by five years of city staff email about reporting and tracking stadium-related activities. All of this was openly available at the Sept. 14 meeting.
Last June the Council awarded a $200,000 contract to Harvey Rose to audit the Santa Clara Stadium Authority’s (SCSA) compliance with Measure J, the voter-approved ballot initiative approving construction of Levi’s Stadium. Measure J requires Santa Clara’s general fund to be reimbursed by the 49ers for stadium-related costs.
What was touted to KPIX as preliminary findings in Brousseau’s report are actually two “potential issues” for further review. The first is that some stadium-related plans and specialized budgets “that serve as the basis for certain SCSA and City revenues are not individually presented to the Stadium Authority Board or summarized in the SCSA annual budget and financial status report.”
The second is that, because “the City apparently did not provide central Citywide direction to all employees on time tracking and billing procedures for Stadium-related activities,” “some staff time may not have been billed and reimbursed.”
KPIX’s report echoes the same assumption. Do said he was told that, prior to an Aug. 5 City Manager directive, there was no “structure” and “no process” for reporting billable stadium-related work.
The emails in the committee report contradict that. They show that stadium activity-tracking goes back years before the stadium’s 2014 opening.
On March 14, 2011, the Santa Clara finance department distributed four new payroll codes for stadium-related time tracking. By 2013 there were specific payroll codes for construction preparation activities, such as the electrical substation relocation.
The record doesn’t show a lack of time-tracking directives. It shows quite the opposite. For example, on April 15, 2013 the engineering department emailed the accounting department at 8:41 a.m. asking a payroll code needed to complete the payroll by 9 a.m. Santa Clara’s accountants promptly provided one at 8:48 a.m.
The correspondence includes detailed discussion of how to make sure that all stadium-related costs –for example, benefits – were fully documented and charged back to the 49ers. Much of the communication specifically concerns tracking public safety costs.
On April 22, 2014 the finance department sent stadium payroll codes – 27 in all – to City departments, with the reminder, “Since the city is reimbursed differently for each of the described activities, it is important that they are used as they have been designed.” One of those departments was the City Council. Ten payroll codes were dedicated to police department activity.
Audit Politically Driven?
Some city officials worry the audit is becoming political, according to sources close to City Hall who requested anonymity because they’re afraid of retaliation from the Mayor and Council majority.
That fear’s not unfounded in an election year when some candidates are running against what Gillmor has called “the dirty political environment” and “the rank smell and stink” of City Hall (youtu.be/tO1J0Btiqrc).
On May 20 the Mercury News wrote that “Gillmor went public with her suspicions … after nearly a dozen employees – including police officers – privately told her they worked during Niners games or non-NFL events at the stadium and the hours were paid with general fund dollars without reimbursement.”
In the same story the Mercury also wrote that, “Nikolai believes the audit will reveal ‘several errors’ and expenses that were not properly tracked … ‘Therefore, I call on Chief Sellers to come clean with the public and taxpayers.'”
Backed by a solid Council majority of Davis, ONeill and Watanabe, Gillmor has the votes to keep auditors working until she gets the results she wants.
KPIX’s Do noted an apparent expansion of mission.
“I thought it would be ‘open and shut,'” he said. “Now they’re talking about going back to every single employee” that worked on anything stadium-related since 2010. “For example, if you arrest somebody at Levi’s Stadium, what’s billable and what’s not.” The current contract explicitly limits the scope of the audit to 2014 through 2016.
Committee Exempt From Open Meetings Laws
Ad-hoc committees aren’t subject to Brown Act requirements for public announcement and published agendas because they only have three Council Members on them, not a majority.
But legal isn’t the same as transparent, something this Council has claimed as a mantle.
Back in February when Gillmor was appointed Mayor, she said, “We can’t make decisions in a backroom. We need to do it in the public and that will be my style.”
Council Member Debi Davis says on her re-election website that she “led the charge for city government to operate in an open and transparent manner.”
And Committee Member Teresa O’Neill says on her campaign website that “she has fought hard to make it easier for the average resident to participate in the decision making process.”
The next Audit Committee meeting is Monday, Sept. 26 at 3 p.m. in the City Hall conference room. At least, that’s what KPIX was told.