City leaders on Tuesday slammed a
that concluded Glendale fell short on several markers of fiscal health, with one local official calling the findings “garbage” while another heaped ire on county officials who, he said, led members of the volunteer panel to their findings.
At the same time, city officials touted recent affirmation of an AA rating for city bonds by financial analyst Fitch Ratings as evidence that Glendale maintains a solid financial footing.
The June grand jury report ranked Glendale on the low end of the county's 88 cities in several categories of financial management related to general fund revenue and spending in fiscal year 2011-12.
City Manager Scott Ochoa said the report erroneously labeled Glendale with a deficit problem because it did not account for annual transfers of Glendale Water & Power revenue into the city's general fund and unfairly penalized the city for losses due to the dissolution of state redevelopment agencies.
Those grievances were included in a response to the grand jury approved by a 3-0 city council vote, with members Laura Friedman and Frank Quintero absent.
“This is a simple case of garbage in, garbage out,” Ochoa said. The report “shows $20 million in the red … and that's just not true.”
By contrast, a statement by Fitch Ratings on Monday declared Glendale's financial outlook “stable” and credited the city with “sound reserve levels, good liquidity, satisfactory financial performance and prudent financial policies and budgeting practices.”
Councilman Ara Najarian said the contrast between findings by Fitch and the grand jury raises suspicion that the Los Angeles County Department of County Counsel, which oversees the grand jury, was somehow leading grand jury members to have an anti-Glendale
City officials unsuccessfully fought the release of a March grand jury report that criticized Glendale's use of GWP revenue to balance its books. The report, prompted by a resident's complaint, came out on the eve of an election that included a city ballot measure to change how Glendale collects revenue from its utility.
Najarian said during Tuesday's council meeting that the county counsel's office had “tried to influence an election in Glendale by the use of public funds” with its March report.
He also urged Glendale residents to rely on the picture of the city's financial health painted by Fitch and not “as judged by the clowns on the grand jury,” who don't necessarily have experience in government finance.
Najarian quickly backed down from the statement, noting it was “maybe too harsh.” However, he reiterated a belief that grand jury members were “very much led by county counsel, who may or may not have an agenda.”
The civil grand jury consists of 23 Los Angeles County residents selected from a volunteer pool or nominated by a judge who serve paid, one-year terms.
Members of the county counsel's office “provide them with legal advice, but we do not write their reports for them and we do not conduct the investigations. They do that themselves,” said Jennifer Lehman, grand jury legal adviser for the county.
Mayor Dave Weaver also publicly questioned the integrity of the process.
“I've lost a lot of respect for the civil grand jury,” Weaver said.
Follow Joe Piasecki on Twitter: @JoePiasecki.