Balboa Park centennial audit committee says city needs to tighten things up

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – An audit of a volunteer group that tried to put together a yearlong celebration of Balboa Park’s centennial shows the city of San Diego needs to tighten its contractual procedures with outside organizations, members of the City Council’s Audit Committee said Monday.

A report from the City Auditor, released last week, found none of the $1.6 million in city money given to Balboa Park Centennial Inc. was misspent, though the scope of allowable expenses was very broad. The audit, which the committee unanimously forwarded to the full City Council, also determined that BPCI didn’t always follow city procedures in contracting for goods and services.

BPCI disbanded earlier this year after being unable to find major sponsors. The group also faced allegations of misusing city funds and not being transparent with its records.

Councilman Scott Sherman, who chairs the committee, said more accountability will need to be written into city contracts in the future, and the scope of allowable expenses will need to be narrowed.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that we’re even here having to discuss this,” Sherman said. “You know, this should have been something very, very nice for the city — something that should have been the source of a lot of pride for a lot of San Diegans, and we ended up with a comedy of errors that just compounded, one after another.”

Among other things, the broad scope of allowable expenses prevented city officials from providing proper oversight of a funding agreement and memorandum of understanding with BPCI, the audit found. The auditors also blamed interference from ex-Mayor Bob Filner and the sexual harassment scandal that led him to resign.

Thomas Hebrank, a public member of the committee, said the city’s experience with BPCI prompted him to perform an Internet search of a certain word that begins with “cluster.” “I got two definitions — one that said any situation with a large scale of disarray, and another which said a chaotic situation where everything seems to go wrong,” Hebrank said. “I think I Googled the right word … I don’t have much more to add.”

Gerry Braun, who has served as a spokesman and interim leader of BPCI, called the audit “honest, thorough and objective.”

City Auditor Eduardo Luna told the committee members that his office is performing a citywide audit of municipal contracts, which will provide recommendations of improvements to the mayor and City Council.

The 2015 centennial is designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Panama-California Exposition, which first brought international attention to San Diego. Event planning is now being handled by the city and the park’s cultural organizations.

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