Put up or shut up

Where’s the proof about alleged fraud at City Hall?

I’m not at a loss for words very often, but I was dumbstruck at the end of the annual State of the City address last Thursday (Jan. 30).

I’d expected to hear good news from our city leaders. After all, the biggest source of income for municipalities is sales tax revenue. And people in California have been opening their pocketbooks more, as evidenced by the state’s recent budget surplus. Receipts surely are up, I thought. And I was curious to know what that would mean for the city.

But instead of hearing that type of presentation, those in attendance listened to Chico Mayor Scott Gruendl paint a somber picture of the state of affairs. He also seemed to lay down some pretty thick political cover.

Three things he said really struck me during the meeting.

First, he made it clear that former city employees, not the City Council, are to blame for the budget deficit. “We are as good as the people that we hire, and when those people withhold information on purpose, they have failed the public as a whole,” he said.

Second, the city is still in bad shape financially—“[W]hen the audit is released in March, I know that even the staunchest of doubters will hardly comprehend the enormity of this crisis,” Gruendl said.

That’s the same audit that was expected to be presented to the council back in November. However, in December, Administrative Services Director Chris Constantin said a draft wouldn’t be released until January. And now, well into February, the public was told that document won’t be available until next month (for more on that subject, see Assistant News Editor Howard Hardee’s report on the City Council meeting, page 10).

But Gruendl didn’t stop there. He said that the elected leaders had been deceived. “How could something like fraud happen among many and be brought up by no one?”

Yes, fraud.

So, who are the employees that allegedly committed fraud and what exactly did they do? Gruendl didn’t say, although he made some vague references to people taking actions without authority. And when asked whether those (unnamed) people will be held accountable for such (unspecific) wrongdoings, he balked.

The mayor sure made it sound like he has a case. But where’s the proof? So far, there isn’t any. And what will the audit actually reveal? Considering multiple outside auditors found the city’s books clean for years, I’m not expecting any huge revelations next month.

As far as I’m concerned, until Gruendl or any of the other council members provides evidence of such offenses, the rhetoric from the dais serves only to spread rumors and besmirch the names of former employees.

In other words, it’s time to put up or shut up.

The last thing I took away from the speech is how the mayor made a point to pat himself on the back: “I’ve gladly stepped up to the role of mayor during the most difficult time in our city’s history,” he said.

Someone should tell him that nobody likes a martyr.