Hoping to put to rest what he sees as unfounded criticisms by some of his council mates, Mayor Andy Fox has asked for outside financial audits of the Civic Arts Plaza’s construction and funding, the city’s proposed sewage rate increases and operations of Civic Arts Plaza theaters.
Fox said he would like financial auditors Diehl Evans to perform the work so council members could put some of their long-running debates behind them. After intense infighting on Tuesday, the council agreed to consider Fox’s suggestions and a list of other potential audits at a council meeting in the next few weeks.
“A to Z on the Civic Arts Plaza, that’s what I want,” Fox told the auditors during a special council session in the city manager’s office. “I’d like to look into the building, land costs, inter-fund transfers, change orders, everything.”
Fox explained Wednesday that he believes the audits are necessary to restore faith in Thousand Oaks government. He believes that Councilwomen Elois Zeanah and Jaime Zukowski have seriously damaged the city’s reputation with unfounded claims of ineptitude and scandal.
“Hopefully this will once and for all repair the public damage that has been made by two irresponsible council members who have smeared our government officials,” Fox said. “I for one deeply resent being labeled as a corrupt council member who is engaged in a conspiracy to hide facts.
“Mrs. Zeanah and Mrs. Zukowski have repeatedly claimed in public that there is corruption and mismanagement at City Hall,” he added. “I think we are at the point where they are not producing any evidence, but people’s integrity is still being questioned. Unfortunately, the taxpayer will foot the bill to clear this up [by paying for an audit].”
The complex funding mechanism used to build the Civic Arts Plaza has been the subject of fierce debate among council members since before the $64-million City Hall and performing arts center were even completed.
In particular, Zeanah and Zukowski have charged that so many internal city funds were drained to help pay for the complex that neither the council nor the public has any idea what Thousand Oaks’ financial status really is.
Fox and council members Mike Markey and Judy Lazar have countered that city leaders need to address the issues Thousand Oaks are facing today and not dwell on done deals like the Civic Arts Plaza.
But like Zeanah and Zukowski, they are eager to look into the funding of the complex and settle the score once and for all.
“These are some of the same things I was interested in,” Lazar said of Fox’s suggestions.
The sewer rate increases, part of a $75-million proposal to expand the city’s Hill Canyon Sewage Treatment Plant, have also been the subject of bitter debate among council members.
Zeanah and Zukowski contend that the $7.35 fee increase originally proposed by staff and the rest of the council was much higher than necessary. They also question where the money in the city’s depleted waste-water fund went, charging that other projects--mainly the Civic Arts Plaza--sucked up more of the fund than city officials have let on.
The City Council recently approved a $1.80-a-month sewer fee increase, but city public works officials contend that money will only cover current operating costs and will not allow for the expansions and upgrades they consider critical to Thousand Oaks’ well-being.
The operations of the Civic Arts Plaza’s Forum Theater and Charles E. Probst Center for the Performing Arts were intended to be completely self-sustaining. No public money was supposed to be used to support the theaters.
Although City Manager Grant Brimhall said Tuesday that the theaters have lived up to that arrangement, Fox said he would like auditors to look into the issue and verify that the theaters are not somehow using up money from the city’s general fund.
The meeting turned nasty when Fox began to criticize Zukowski for what he considered a blatant violation of council policies: Earlier in the day, Zukowski met with the city’s auditors and brought a member of the public--a certified public accountant--along with her.
Zukowski--who argued she had never been informed of any council policy preventing her from bringing in a member of the public to her meeting with auditors--said she was just looking for some assistance.
“It was my half-hour, and I asked for someone to help me phrase my questions,” she said.
Zeanah then maintained that she had not been informed that individual council members would be allowed to suggest different audits--one of the main purposes of the meeting.
When she charged that Fox, Lazar and Markey had engaged in a conspiracy with city staff to push Fox’s audits, Lazar shot back: “To say that the council has never been informed of their ability to make personal suggestions to the auditors is, frankly, a blatant lie.”
“You don’t even know why we’re here today!” Fox told Zeanah.
“There’s too much talk between you three and the city manager,” Zeanah responded.
“The problem is that you don’t talk to anyone!” Lazar said. “You don’t talk to [city] staff.”
In the end, council members agreed to consider a list of different audit proposals during a future study session.
To Fox’s list, Markey added a proposal to perform a cost analysis of different Thousand Oaks spending policies to determine where the city could save money. For example, he noted that Compton, the city where he works as a detective, has decided to lease rather than purchase city vehicles to save money.
Zeanah, in turn, said she would like to see an analysis of all city deficits, inter-fund transfers and reserve accounts, not just those associated with the construction of the Civic Arts Plaza.