Whether you're for or against the creation of the so-called Orange County Great Park, the fallback scheme to block construction of an international airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, I'm guessing you'd probably want the multi-billion dollar government project to be free of waste, fraud and abuse.
I say that assuming that you aren't one of the lobbyists, liars, government subcontractors, public relations clowns, campaign contributors or other various sycophants of Larry Agran, the veteran Irvine politician who makes sure everyone knows he controls the massive publicly-funded Great Park checkbook.
Several years ago, I spent a substantial period investigating the early stages of Agran's park operation and discovered an ugly reality: Orange County's most acclaimed and nationally recognized liberal elected official is someone who prides himself on backroom deals with questionable characters (some of whom are convicted felons), gleefully thwarts mandatory public disclosure of his behind-the-scenes actions, and operates with a pettiness and ego that would drop Dick Nixon's jaw in envy.
Today, I obtained a copy of an audit report for one area of the Great Park design. Sure, there's double billing by contractors, no backup for certain claimed expenses, shoddy record keeping, highly questionable spending for entertainment and travel, eye-winking approval of poor subcontractor behavior and--an Agran specialty--a document system designed to hide government documents.
Here are some of the audit findings for OC's largest-ever public works project:
--The auditor found a lack of supporting documentation or documents that were incomplete or insufficiently organized; lack of a unified system for timekeeping; instances where Great Park Design Studio advanced work efforts prior to authorization by the Corporation; and missing, incomplete and inaccessible information in the computer.
(Agran's staff, as would be expected, claimed that providing details to taxpayers "was not practical" because developing the Great Park is "inherently a creative exercise.")
--Under a section called "Controls for Monitoring the Project," the auditor believes project controls "were not as tight as one would expect for a project this size." In general, there were questionable invoices, time-keeping records, and travel and entertainment expenses.
--Under a section called "Contract Change Orders," the auditor commented that Great Park officials and contractors "generally" ignored rules that required advanced approval to increase the amount of taxpayer dollars that would be spent on a specific project.
--Under a section called "Contingency Reserves," the auditor noted suspicious movement of unallocated public funds between Agran's Great Park contractors.
--Under a section called "Insurance," the auditor found that the Great Park staff allowed contractors to ignore mandated insurance requirements designed to protect public coffers.
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--Under a section called "Computer System Records," the auditor said that the system was at times a maze that could not be accessed without assistance and then, when access was gained, records were missing.
All of these lapses were predictable given the ethics of the politician (and onetime Democratic presidential candidate) who appointed himself the man to run the show.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly