Follow the Money, But How?

We’ve all heard the words “follow the money” as if said process will magically unveil itself to us. Certain insight and skills are necessary when confronted by a doozy like this one:

nicolevegas1_gb

ICSC is the International Council of Shopping Centers who held their Global Retail Real Estate Convention May 22-25, 2016 in Las Vegas, which, ironically, cost $570 to attend, the same amount of the first transaction (above).

As if taxis, bagels, and Starbucks charged to the City procurement card wasn’t enough, two days of room service at the Hard Rock Hotel made the trip all worthwhile:

nicolevegas2_nb

nicolevegas3_nb

Just because there’s enough material in the City’s records to write blog posts like these……for another 57 years, that’s not the point.

Why should you care?  Simple Answer:  Because almost nobody else cares.  Joe Felz does not care.  On the City Council, Fitzgerald, Flory, and Chaffee do not care either — earlier this year, they voted no on the formation of an Audit Committee.

We all come from different backgrounds with different skill sets, and some of us probably despise working with numbers.  I get that.  But, somehow, some way, Fullerton residents need to collectively step up and be watchdogs of the City finances.   When City staff fails us, and the City Council majority fails us again, we have no other choice.

The reason the illegal water tax was alive and well, unabated, for so many years is because nobody took up the same kinds of things I’m advocating for right now until the damage was done. Fast forward a few years later to right now — the City wants to initiate paid parking in Downtown Fullerton because wasteful spending such as this is now mainstream.  They need extra cash to hire more police officers, yet they have no desire to ever change their ways under Joe Felz’ so-called ‘management’ of the City.

That having been said, I would like to offer some guidance to those even marginally intrigued by this suggestion.  I would suggest becoming familiar with the City’s account number structure because it will come up over and over again.

accountnumbers
Note:  Until someone develops an online tool to decode the account numbers automatically — hint, hint to any database or SQL gurus out there — you will have to look up the various parts, manually:   City Accounts  (Excel spreadsheet)
On Nicole Bernard’s shopping cart expedition to Las Vegas, the logs to coincide with the credit card statements shown above provide additional information in the form of account numbers and a brief description of the purchase (below).  10111 is the ORGKEY: 10 = General Fund and 111 = City Council.  The OBJECT ID is 6212 which stands for Meetings, Conferences, & Training.   Why was Nicole’s conference fees, hotel, and airfare put down as a **City Council** expense?

pcardlog_may16

The remainder of Nicole’s trip to Vegas was allocated to 10121.  Still the General Fund (10), but 121 = City Manager.  In addition to being Joe Felz’ assistant, Nicole is also Economic Development Manager, and they created 10352 specifically for that purpose, Economic Development.  Wouldn’t that be a more appropriate place to assign these costs?

pcardlog_jun16

So there’s actually multiple problems:

  1.  The necessity of going to Las Vegas in the first place.
  2.  Excessive spending while in Las Vegas.
  3.  Sloppy accounting by assigning costs where they don’t belong, perhaps intentionally?

Joe Felz is her direct supervisor, and he obviously had no problem with any of this.  He allowed her to go on the City’s dime.  He didn’t object to her purchases. And he approved, or should have been the one to approve, her procurement card reporting.

All business as usual at Fullerton City Hall.

Behind Closed Doors Setting The Bar Low Transparency Watch Your Wallet

37 thoughts on “Follow the Money, But How?

  1. Thanks for this introduction.

    The details are quite nauseating, but draw you into the mindset of a Fullerton bureaucrat living large. Vegas Hotels have shuttles (if you’re picking up your own tab). Room service?

    Jesus, even the the stuff you DIDN”T highlight jumps off the freaking page: we paid $85 to send Fitzgerald to the useless OC Business Council’s “leadership breakfast?” And right below – another $70 to go to a Rotary dinner? ?

    This is the same mentality that sent Bankhead and Jones to a fancy hotel in Long Beach for several nights for a League of Cities junket – 25 miles from home.

  2. I wonder if our jetsetting Nicole can list even ONE actual economic development accomplishment. Just one. And then there’s that lunk-headed goober Charles Kovac who was kept around over after the end of Redevelopment – dead wood.

  3. The other way to chase down stuff is top down – from the CAFR on downwards. It’s not nearly as scattershot; you look at big things first – but you have to know where to start programmatically.

    However, the bottom-up method is more fun because you get to see the particulars and the myriad ways money is wasted by our “servants.” And in Fullerton it seems to be a spectacularly target rich environment. As Jerry (above) notes – on the same statement our dear Nicole is busy bringin new shopping centers to Fullerton, our delightful Mayor is breakfasting with her pals – the odious Curt pringle and Lucetta Dunn – on our dime.
    Leadership? Yeah, sure. Whatever you say, ‘hon.

    1. I would like to see Sebourn and Whitaker make some noise about these types of things. They have a platform. I keep voting for them because they talk like outsiders who want reform, but in the end, what have they really done?

      1. They are both full of crap. Look at the American Golf contract Levinson keeps bringing up. Why isn’t he writing for you guys? The net revenue loss is in the millions. What does Bruce or Greg do about it? Squat. What does Curlee do? He keeps bringing up hundred dollar hotel bills. Where have I heard that before?

          1. Really now, and Imbriano’s take on the shape of the earth is about as relevant to this issue as are Ed’s preferences in smoking pole. Stick to the issue. You guys bring up this piddly stuff when Curlee has run away from what he totally missed and Levinson unearthed. Why the spin doctoring? For reals guys, why this focus on the minutia? I voted for these two twice now. They are no shows over and over. I also voted for Imbriano. At least he will call people out on their crap and that is what all this is. So what about the contract with the golf company? It is costing us millions of dollars. This hotel bill stuff is a joke. You guys need to be screaming about the big deal here and it aint the hard rock bill or the tshirts. Its the contract. You want an audit committee? To do what? Ignore this too?

            https://youtu.be/GFknzxIpCTM

            Levinson got canned by Bruce and no one has done squat about this. You guys want to be credible? Deal with issues. We need people who we can trust to fix things.

            1. Sorry, did you just say something about credibility while criticizing this site and praising Crazy Joe and Barry? Please.

              Look, I love it when they very rightly call out Fitzgerald and the rest,but when you say that their loony bin stuff doesn’t warrant bringing up, I remind you that they post that crap ad nauseum on a site which purports to be talking about Fullerton. I agree that supposedly faked space landings, insidious UN plots carried out by their minions at SCAG, and the rest of their paranoid nonsense has no place in this discussion, but you are complaining to exactly the wrong people.

              1. Really? So what is on that video means zip just because Imbriano thinks those 100 ton jalopies didn’t go 200,000 miles through the van allen belts and was an elaborate theater production? I happen to agree with much of what he presents but here’s the deal-the Golf contract is the issue. Forget his moon landings comments and his UN theories for just a minute and focus on “following the money”. For Pete’s sake, you cry about an audit committee and you have someone present audit findings in a public meeting and everyone involved shit cans the whole thing? We are talking millions of dollars. Curlee is talking hundreds with these hotel bills. Barry repeatedly accused Curlee of majoring in the minors-go read it on Joes site. Why is Curlee not bringing this up? I read that Barry even handed him the findings. Why not post them here? Why is he running away from it?

                1. I went to Curlee’s Brea Dam website where he has documented a compelling case of the City’s misuse/abuse of our lease with the Army Corps of Engineers, as regards our subleases. As I understand it, they will be cross-posted here.

                  I hope you find them illuminating.

                  Mr. Curlee is not “running away” from anything. Please don’t repeat that.

                2. “Also, Levinson didn’t break that story. Dave Curlee did. As in the person who wrote this article.”

                  And that sums it up pretty well.

                3. Uh, I believe that Mr Curlee handed Barry the info. As I’ve posted before, check out his web site at http://www.breadam.org.

                  And just exactly what do you expect Mr. Curlee to do? It’s been a 3-2 vote on the council on anything to do with the city finances. He gets his 3 minutes in front of the city council, the majority of whom have no interest in facts or numbers and would much rather insult, or shoot, the messenger than actually listen to what he has to say. Bruce and Greg have their votes, but as the minority on many of these issues, have no real power on their own. So Dave does what he can at every meeting. You can’t go to every council meeting and spend your 3 minutes talking about the golf course contract – they’ve heard it before. But you can bring up the smaller monthly expenditures. To paraphrase a politician “$500 here and $1000 there can add up to some real money”. The city of Fullerton wastes some real money, sometimes in $500 and $1000 amounts, sometimes much larger.

                  I think many missed the point on Dave’s original post. It wasn’t to nit pick on some city employee’s junket to Las Vegas. It was to help people decode the city’s cryptic financial codes so that others can speak up on city waste, fraud, and mismanagement. The more people that are willing and able to nit pick the large and small amounts of waste, the better. Dave is trying to help enable people to ask all those questions the majority of the council don’t want to hear and don’t want to discuss.

                4. I think you’re overlooking that this post wasn’t intended to draw attention to the Vegas trip, but rather an intro into deciphering the City’s accounting system and the sloppiness with which costs are allocated. I needed a simple enough example to tie into without using a ton of space, so I chose that one. The same skills are needed whether you’re looking at travel expenses or the golf course nightmare.

                  As for your other comments, I haven’t run away from the Brea Dam or golf course problems at all. We might have better success with the new council once Jan Flory is gone. Believe it or not, it was Jesus Silva on the Parks and Rec Commission who showed concern along with Barry Levinson about these very issues.

                  Additionally, I’m not disputing Barry’s analysis about the lost revenue. I’m sure Barry would concur projections such as his need to be revised from time to time as revenues and expenses change, but right now his numbers look reasonable given the data we’ve been told by the City. Just for clarification, the $5 million in lost revenue is over many years — we haven’t lost the full $5 million YET. I haven’t run the numbers, but the Brea Dam Fund has probably suffered a $1.3 to $1.5 million hit (so far) thanks to both the awful management agreement, and Joe Felz’ utter incompetence in convincing the City Council to sell bonds at a high interest rate to replace the golf course sprinkler system. The same sprinklers the City was under no obligation to replace.

                  More to come on this topic.

                5. “Forget his moon landings comments and his UN theories for just a minute”

                  For some reason the phrase “bat shit crazy” springs to mind. I can’t imagine why.

  4. Thanks, Mr. Curlee, for this important public service message. Well written and clear.

    I hope people will read this in conjunction with the Seven Wall series. That sort of arrogance goes hand in glove with the completely cavalier manner in which these people waste our money as demonstrated above.

  5. So what reason (excuse) did Flory and Fitzgerald and Chaffee give for not wanting and Audit Committee. The County has one and it has real accountants on it.

    Maybe FFFF can post a video clip of that meeting.

    1. Chaffee said we have too many committees.

      Fitzgerald said, and I kid you not, auditing should be left to the professionals even though, Fitz, herself, is on the FJUHSD bond oversight committee with zero professional experience. Quite the double standard. Even if auditing were left to professionals, she obviously has no clue that auditing firms do not scrutinize each and every individual purchase. They have to assume robust internal controls are in place to prevent abuse, otherwise each audit would take 10x as long and cost just as much more.

      I don’t remember what Flory said but I’m sure it was in line with the above.

      1. Fullerton needs an independent audit.

        An internal auditor (Fullerton doesn’t even have one) would still work for Felz – an inherent conflict of interest. A committee would likewise get jerked around by staff.

        What we have is a ship that just sails on. The dimwits like Chaffee and Flory are too dumb to even suspect the existence of such a thing as an iceberg. They have been trained to put an abiding faith in people like Felz – a guy who got his start handing out volleyballs at the park.

        Fitzgerald strikes me as far more calculating – she would reject an audit because it would offend staff and she needs staff to make her look good. She is also likely to fear things that might fall out of the closet.

        Hopefully this swindle is coming to an end. Good work.

  6. It almost seems like it would be better to just stay at the office and get work done. Who actually thinks that a Real Estate Conference brings some sort of value to the people who live in Fullerton?

      1. So by that logic if there was a line item in the city budget for the services of a $300 prostitute, we shouldn’t complain if that’s the going rate on Craig’s List?

  7. $27 room service per day and you complain? You want the conference attendee to starve? LOL so petty. They should have spent at least $100 per day.

  8. STOP THE PRESS! It appears the City (Nichole?) purchased $928.80 in T-shirts from Solidarity. You might recall that Solidarity received a bunch of cash from Charles Kovak via the Community Development Block Grant funds that the City received. Now we are buying I Heart Fullerton T-Shirts from them?? Why didn’t the City buy them from OC United which is the I Heart Fullerton non-profit? Oh, maybe because certain City officials served on their board of directors.

    1. Why is the City buying Love Fullerton t-shirts at all?

      I’m not here to bash Love Fullerton, but think about this. You can’t love Fullerton while simultaneously wasting everybody’s tax dollars on a shirt they didn’t need in the first place.

      Mass produced custom t-shirts can be had for $4 to 5 each. At $928, that suggests the City purchased 200+ shirts. Why would they do that?

      1. Love Fullerton was a large umbrella operation for a bunch of volunteer projects run by smaller groups on a single day. It looks like shirts were provided for the volunteers on behalf of the taxpayer. Every expense deserves scrutiny but this may not be the best target of your ire.

        1. I’m betting Jennifer Fitzgerald put in a demand for those t-shirts to be purchased.

          Why would Jennifer do such a thing? Enriching her campaign photo opportunities is most likely. Oh, so you don’t have a Love Fullerton shirt? No problem, here’s 10 of them, now put them on and take a photo with me for my campaign website. That’s the way Jennifer operates. She is morally bankrupt from head to toe, and will take advantage of every situation for her own personal gratification.

          At Love Fullerton day this year, she had a City employee shadowing her with a camera, the photos of which appeared on her campaign Facebook page. Using City employees to further a campaign is illegal unless the employee volunteers in his/her private capacity while off-duty. Gee, I wonder, was the employee ordered by Joe or Jennifer to follow her around?

  9. Lab Rat
    November 30, 2016 at 5:26 PM
    Uh, I believe that Mr Curlee handed Barry the info. As I’ve posted before, check out his web site at http://www.breadam.org.

    And just exactly what do you expect Mr. Curlee to do? It’s been a 3-2 vote on the council on anything to do with the city finances. He gets his 3 minutes in front of the city council, the majority of whom have no interest in facts or numbers and would much rather insult, or shoot, the messenger than actually listen to what he has to say. Bruce and Greg have their votes, but as the minority on many of these issues, have no real power on their own. So Dave does what he can at every meeting. You can’t go to every council meeting and spend your 3 minutes talking about the golf course contract – they’ve heard it before. But you can bring up the smaller monthly expenditures. To paraphrase a politician “$500 here and $1000 there can add up to some real money”. The city of Fullerton wastes some real money, sometimes in $500 and $1000 amounts, sometimes much larger.

    I think many missed the point on Dave’s original post. It wasn’t to nit pick on some city employee’s junket to Las Vegas. It was to help people decode the city’s cryptic financial codes so that others can speak up on city waste, fraud, and mismanagement. The more people that are willing and able to nit pick the large and small amounts of waste, the better. Dave is trying to help enable people to ask all those questions the majority of the council don’t want to hear and don’t want to discuss.

    Reply

    I aint swallerin Lab Rat because Curlee let the Golf contract issue go the way of the fountain pen. Do the math-Golf contract loss is ten thousand times the hotel bill scandal he writes about here. This is piddley nonsense. Bruce has done didely too. You guys complain about these people that went to Vegas and blew through 500 bucks in 3 days. Whoopty shit. I can burn through 500 at the sushi bar in 15 minutes. They went easy on us for sure. 800 bucks in Tshirts for Fizti? Who cares. No one knows about this fraud because Curlee got shut down by Floozy when she sent him home with his tail between his legs. It has stayed there ever since.

    1. What makes you think Curlee dropped the golf contract issue? I’ve seen his website and it looks like he’s pursued it more than anyone else around here.

      If you really care about an issue, you should probably try to help him.

  10. In general, I agree that the purpose is not necessarily to get riled over two $27.00 room service tabs, but to question the motives behind sending people away to conferences, and asking about what strategies they employ to gain the most for the benefit of the city once they are there, and if they follow up on the leads, and what substantive results come from them.

    In general, I think conferences are good to attend, but what method is there to evaluate whether or not they got anything out of it? I’m flummoxed by the International Council of Shopping Centers, because the one thing we don’t necessarily need are more service jobs that pay minimum or near-minimum wage. After all, the city has saw fit to permit the building of apartments that start at $1935/month for a 1 bedroom. This figure alone would lead one to think that by doing this, Fullerton leaders and economic developers are high on the hog to do all they can to bring in jobs that are paying at least 6k a month minimum per person, to afford that 1 bedroom apartment. We’ve lost the career jobs of engineering and oil long ago. Those aren’t coming back. So what business sectors are the looking for now, and can they be found at the International Council of Shopping Centers?
    So what’s the metric for evaluation?
    Where’s the report?
    How many years have we been sending people to this or other conferences or conventions?
    What business have they brought in, who have they pitched? (To this, add, “What did they pitch?”)
    How has the conference helped them streamline or make the running of the city more efficient and profitable?

    1. You are right but the main point of this post was to demonstrate how to find thing in the City check registers and credit card statements and trace them back to journal entries. The author used an entertaining example – probably one of a thousands he could have used.

      The anonymous goober(above) completely missed the point.

  11. Definitely, the check and credit card registers are proof or expenditures that need to be overseen and to some extent are. The rest points to a need to question the issue of business as usual, and a lack of conversation from our leaders about the economic development beyond relying upon developers who throw up high rises or taking what’s left of the small patches of vacant land and tossing in McMansions of all sizes.
    -What’s the metric for evaluation before deciding to go to a given conference? How does it relate to the economic development vision of the city? In fact, it’s fair to ask –what is that vision? How does it relate to one present and one upcoming generation who are very much small business entrepreneurs (as opposed to “business as usual” of reliance upon development? How does this vision fit into economic projections for the southland in general? What business sectors are they targeting?
    -What business have they brought in from the past attending this and other conferences?
    -What are they pitching? I mean, what is the pitch for Fullerton?
    -What are they learning? What solid business leads have they brought in and what have they done with them?
    -Who is on the Economic Development Commission? Do they accurately represent the current generations of business owners and others with expertise, or are they, to put it bluntly, from an older generation?
    Many questions to ask. However, beware of elected officials deflecting them.

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