Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008 | Until now, I, as a concerned citizen and taxpayer, have practiced restraint as I have followed the reporting on the abuse of tax dollars at Southeastern Economic Development Corporation (SEDC). In Voice of San Diego and elsewhere, we have read reporting on: gross padding of base salaries by SEDC president Carolyn Smith, finance director Dante Dayacap, and others on staff, using taxpayer dollars; extravagant meals and other pricey perks that most working people do not enjoy or reasonably expect from their jobs, using taxpayer dollars; and a six-figure severance package for Carolyn Smith, allowing her to take up to 90 days to depart the job from which she was fired, using taxpayer dollars.

We have also learned of an ineffectual board of directors at SEDC, which I contend did not perform the oversight and fiduciary duties expected of them in their role as stewards of taxpayer dollars. Oh, by the way, all of the board seats are long expired, yet these board members are still there at SEDC. Only in government and the public sector can these board members not only remain in their expired positions, but they vote to provide legal immunity to Carolyn Smith in the event she is sued (and should be) for her malfeasance and disregard for the value of taxpayer dollars.

Now, we hear that, last night, the same SEDC board cannot even bring itself to remove Artie “Chip” Owen as the board chairman. The same Owen who, in the view of many, has a glaring conflict of interest in his role at SEDC, given the business that he has personally, financially benefited from in his time as chairman, to the tune of over $1 million.

Like a lot of taxpayers in San Diego, I have waited hopefully for the fraud and abuse at SEDC to sort itself out in a way that reassures citizens that governmental misconduct is eventually cleaned up, reforms are enacted, and a mess like this does not repeat itself. So far, this hoped-for outcome has not happened. In fact, we were told that the reason for the establishment of quasi-independent agencies like SEDC and Center City Development Corporation was to allow such entities to operate in a non-political environment, free from meddling by politicians at City Hall. Well, I think we can fairly conclude that the “quasi-independent corporation” experiment has been an abysmal failure.

So, given the pattern of unlawful behavior of SEDC officials, and the failure of the board there to vote in ways that protect the sanctity of taxpayer dollars, I now call for Mayor Sanders and the City Council to abolish SEDC. I also call on the offices of the District Attorney, the U.S. Attorney and the Internal Revenue Service to finally step up to the plate and prosecute and punish the long history of obvious wrongdoing at SEDC. Until these actions and investigations are undertaken, the citizens and taxpayers of San Diego will just grow more and more cynical about their city government, and will keep losing faith that things will ever get better there.

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