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City needs to look inside itself

Lost amid the chatter about Promote La Jolla’s financial predicament and who did what and when is the fact that there seems to be some basis to ask city officials some questions about their role.

The city attorney’s office said this week that no conclusions have been made about whether there were illegal or unethical actions and the city’s small business office is continuing to work with Promote La Jolla to resolve matters.

When City Auditor Eduardo Luna issued his July 29 report on the hotline investigation concluding that “PLJ submitted duplicate and prohibited expenditures for reimbursement,” he recommended changes in how the city’s Planning and Community Investment Department conducts oversight of business improvement districts (BID) like Promote La Jolla.

They included setting up an internal review procedure to catch duplicate payments when groups get funding from more than one source. Planning Director William Anderson said in his response to the audit that a staffer was added to review requests but the position has been vacant “for some months.”

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Checks are done using QuickBooks, he reported, but apparently something was missed in the process with PLJ. “Going forward,” he proposed training and requiring that a master reimbursement request be made each month. He also said they would add at least one site visit annually to check records.

Also, language is to be added to future BID agreements “clearly prohibiting contractors from submitting the same expense for reimbursement to the city if it is properly chargeable to another funding source.”

That’s all well and good for the future, but guess what: The horse has already bolted and Promote La Jolla is stuck with the effects of the barn door not being closed first.

We learned Tuesday that the office overseeing bids is “preparing additional training and information for BID organizations,” but not much more. Knowing the state of the city’s finances, though, we’re guessing the vacant position to monitor reimbursements won’t be filled and new training will take a while to get moving. Also, since most of the BID contracts for 2010 - except for PLJ’s - have been approved, that means the new rules won’t have much impact on the other merchant groups.

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Maybe the city should look inside itself a bit deeper. Is this situation with PLJ a symptom of a larger problem in how the city functions?