The county of San Diego has been playing fast and loose with transparency and the distribution of Indian gambling cash awarded to it by the state, ostensibly to cover the adverse impacts of tribal casinos here.
So concludes a March 6 report by the California state auditor's office. The auditors say that the county's so-called community benefit committee, which hands out the gambling lucre, has been flagrantly breaking state laws requiring disclosure and payment procedures for the long-controversial program.
The audit explains that "in each county in which Indian gaming occurs, state law creates an Indian gaming local community benefit committee that awards mitigation grants from the distribution fund."
"Statute has created a special composition for San Diego County’s benefit committee: two county representatives, one city representative, three tribal representatives, and the sheriff of San Diego County."
But San Diego's chief lawman Bill Gore and his associates on the committee need a little more supervision and enforcement themselves, according to the report, especially when it comes to complying with the financial-disclosure requirements of the state's political reform act.
Although Riverside and San Diego counties’ benefit committees have specified designated positions — benefit committee members and their alternates — that are required to file statements, these committees do not designate any benefit committee staff positions as being required to file.
Exacerbating the transparency problem, according to the audit, is that some of those associated with the San Diego benefit committees who are already required to disclose their personal financial information have been regularly ignoring the law.
In San Diego County, we identified six instances in which designated individuals did not file their statements and three additional instances in which they filed their statements late.
In a February 10 response to the audit's initial findings, county deputy chief administrative officer Sarah E. Aghassi claimed that the benefit-commission members cited in the report "are no longer members of the Committee."
She added that county staffers "will also attend additional training on the [political] reform act and continue to follow up with all individuals who do not file."
But the auditor's final March report says Aghassi had it wrong.
Contrary to the county’s statement, several of the individuals we identified as not filing or filing late still appear on the January 2014 member roster for San Diego County’s benefit committee.
Further, our recommendation is intended to ensure that San Diego County’s benefit committee develops procedures to ensure that all benefit committee members file statements as required by state law.
In addition to its multiple disclosure problems, auditors found that San Diego had "improperly disbursed funds for San Diego County’s grant recipients."
San Diego County’s benefit committee directed the California State Controller’s Office to disburse funds directly to the county, which then disbursed the amounts to grant recipients.
...the process is not in compliance with state law, which requires the Controller to disburse the funds directly to the local government jurisdictions that are to receive the grants.
If San Diego County’s benefit committee believes that its process for distributing grant funds improves its ability to manage its grant program, it should seek legislative authority to change its process.
The audit report adds that San Diego was among the four counties it surveyed — including Butte, Lake, and Riverside — that had "awarded grant funds to local government jurisdictions even though the applicants did not quantify the casino impacts or did not demonstrate the proportionate share of the casino impacts."
In her letter of response, the county's Aghassi wrote that San Diego’s benefit committee "has increased the amount of documentation requested from grant applications over the past three grant cycles, and will continue to require documentation that demonstrates proportional share of the costs attributable to casino impacts."
Current members of the benefit committee board, according to a roster posted online by the county, are county supervisor Dianne Jacob, Sheriff Bill Gore, county assistant chief operating officer Don Steuer, Barona tribal chairman Clifford LaChappa, Barona's Sheila Alvarez, and Adam Day, assistant tribal manager of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.
Mark Lewis, on the board in 2012 and 2013, resigned as mayor of El Cajon last October after making allegedly predjudicial remarks about the city's Chaldean population, and is no longer listed as a member.