INGLEWOOD : Officials Study Finances of Sister-City Panel
City officials are investigating the financial records of the Sierra Leone Sister City committee, which several years ago established relations between Inglewood and Bo, a city in the West African country.
The City Council voted 4 to 1 last week to examine the records. Councilman Garland Hardeman, who is on the sister-city committee, opposed the investigation.
City Manager Paul Eckles called for an investigation after a delegation of Bo officials, bound for Inglewood last month, were left stranded at an airport in Sierra Leone. The delegation was led to believe the city would pay for the trip and that airline tickets would be waiting for them at the airport.
“At a minimum, this sister-city relationship has become a major embarrassment to the city of Inglewood,” Eckles wrote in a memo submitted to the council.
Eckles’ suspicions were further raised when the sister-city committee refused to release its financial statements.
The investigation will center on the fund-raising activities of the committee and its president, Art Davis, according to the memo. Davis said that the committee is gathering its financial statements, but the process will take two or three weeks.
City officials say the Bo delegation waited at the airport for more than a week for the tickets. The incident may have been a miscommunication among Davis, Bo city officials and Richard Harris, an Orange County businessman who agreed to pay for the trip but later withdrew his support, officials said.
Although no committee expenses were paid with Inglewood funds, an investigation is needed to determine if committee members were involved in any illegal activities, said Assistant City Manager Norman Cravens.
“Somehow somebody got the city deeply involved with something we didn’t have anything to do with; now we’re trying to extricate ourselves from it,” Cravens said.
Hardeman said that any investigation into the committee’s activities is politically motivated and an “African witch hunt.”
Hardeman plans to present a full report before the council meeting on Tuesday.