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Monday, December 12, 2005 | The staff here at Scott Lewis on Politics™ was remembering a “Seinfeld” episode the other day in which the pudgy, balding George spent most of the show trying desperately to get fired from his job.
Yet every outrageous thing he did only earned him praise and money.
Things like that are supposed to be funny because they’re absurd. Yet here we are in San Diego with a group of city consultants who appear to be trying to get themselves fired. And all we do is give them more money.
Kroll Inc. – the accountants brought in to put San Diego’s city finances and past practices under the microscope – let it be known this week that they would need between $9 million and $11 million more to complete their work.
They also said they won’t be finished for several more months, probably May (dedicated readers of SLOP™, will remember that May is turning out to be a big month in the predictions world. It’s in May that new Mayor Jerry Sanders said he’ll know if the city needs to go into bankruptcy).
The money Kroll is asking for, of course, is in addition to the more than $7 million they and their lawyers have already charged. And it’s in addition to the millions uselessly spent on their predecessors from the firm Vinson & Elkins.
The worst part? Kroll is not even working right now. They’re doing the minimum required to keep their investigation alive but until they get more money, they’re going to pass on the heavy lifting and enjoy the holidays.
Even so, according to the City Council, city auditor and even the city attorney, we are obligated to continue working with Kroll. The report they eventually produce is supposed to help purchase San Diego’s ticket back onto Wall Street – it’s supposed to be the end-all be-all account of just how stank San Diego’s dirty laundry really is.
With Kroll’s investigation finally completed, the story goes, San Diego will be able to complete a long overdue audit, regain credit with investors and again apply for loans from bond-buyers who were supposedly shocked nearly two years ago when the city first revealed that it had misrepresented the deficit in its pension system.
When it hired Kroll, the city was clearly broken. A previous consultant had tried and failed to air out all the city’s dirty laundry to satisfy the Securities and Exchange Commission and the city’s outside auditor.
Yet giving money to Kroll has turned out to be like paying a mechanic to fix your old Volvo and then watching as he lets your car sit in his back yard for months. Each time you ask him how it’s going, he smiles and says he’s going to need some more cash.
Kroll argues that it has encountered unexpected problems analyzing thousands of e-mails sent by and to city employees over the years. And representatives from the firm say that they have to look at those e-mails to decide if they need to, well, look at those e-mails.
But how long are we going to wait for this? If we do end up paying Kroll $17 million and if the firm does end up finishing in May, city taxpayers will have paid it more than $1 million a month.
And then you have to wonder if the e-mail excuse even really flies. After all, it was only a few months ago that Kroll was telling us what they needed was access to thousands of documents guarded by the obstinate overseers of the city’s retirement system.
The U.S. attorney – completing her own investigation – successfully pushed the retirement board to fork over the documents.
So, all eyes turned back to Kroll. That’s when they came up with the “technical-difficulties” excuse.
The worst part is we’re stuck. There doesn’t seem to be an alternative to paying Kroll. Even City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who has an acidic and difficult relationship with the firm, doesn’t advocate simply firing it.
Mayor Sanders talked about “leadership, for a change” in his campaign, and it’s exactly this sort of paradox out of which we need to be led. The problem is complex and ugly.
But every time representatives from Kroll ask city taxpayers for more money and time, one thing becomes increasingly clear: They appear to want us, as a city, to fire them.
And it’s difficult to understand why we don’t just oblige them.
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