We have the latest details about what’s behind the decline of a major local consumer advocacy watchdog, Utility Consumers’ Action Network.

The nonprofit quietly announced on Wednesday it was taking steps to dissolve. The goal: shed the weight of a lingering investigation and whistleblower accusations, and emerge as a new organization.

“The move comes a week after an FBI agent subpoenaed UCAN’s internal records and nearly a year after two employees alleged that UCAN had embezzled money, awarded illegal bonuses, set up suspicious bank accounts and failed to properly audit its books,” Rob Davis reports.

UCAN says it investigated the charges and they have little merit. Its well-known leader, Michael Shames, said the move to dissolve was a strategic one designed to force attorney Mike Aguirre to go public with accusations that have been simmering in private for a while. That way, Shames said, he can address them and move on. 

UCAN serves as an influential watchdog, especially over local utilities.

Hear from the whistleblowers directly: They were guests yesterday on KBPS’ Evening Edition.

Analyzing Cop Response Times

For the first time in a decade, the Police Department’s response time to calls worsened last year across every category, our Keegan Kyle reports in his Graphic of the Week.

The cops say a spike in the most urgent, high-priority calls hogged the department’s resources.

“It’s worth noting that response times for the highest priority calls are still better than a decade ago when police had hundreds more officers and handled more calls,” Kyle reports. “The gradual uptick in the last two years is what appears more concerning.”

Overall, the number of emergency calls dispatched by the department is at the lowest level of the past decade.

Convention Center Plan Survives, for Now

A judge has rejected an attempt by the hotel-workers union to immediately stop the Convention Center expansion plan from moving forward. Still, the novel financing deal will ultimately end up before a judge after it’s finalized because of questions whether hoteliers can bypass voters in increasing hotel-room taxes.

Take a step back and get caught up with the expansion saga with our Reader’s Guide.

Meet Another School Board Candidate

Mark Powell wants to unseat school board member John Lee Evans. We talked with the former San Diego teacher and administrator-turned-mortgage broker to see what he’d do if elected.

Powell promises to use his background to put “value back in education” and hopes to see all kids carrying iPads to school so they’ll have a “state-of-the-art curriculum.”

“I believe that teachers are the backbone of the district. I want to make sure that they’re treated fairly and paid appropriately for the hard work they do day in and day out,” he says. “I know teaching is not a 40-hour-a-week job, and teachers deserve respect from students, parents and the community.”

Who’d Beethoven Have the Hots for?

The San Diego Symphony’s final Symphony Exposé concert is tonight, featuring Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which has spawned speculation about whether the composer wrote it about a married lady he hoped would be more than a friend. (That sly devil!)

We’ve got more details and a tip on a great ticket deal. Just remember an important lesson about pining for the already-hitched: Do not try this at home, even if you write music for the ages.

More Questions Face Juvenile Justice System

CityBeat says “a new set of inspection reports from the county’s Juvenile Justice Commission raises new questions about abuse, education and healthcare, and whether grievances are handled properly in the county’s five juvenile lockups.”

County officials continue to refuse to explain the situation to the newspaper, which previously exposed how the juvenile justice system failed to properly report sexual abuse allegations in a federal survey.   

What Pension Reform Wrought

A taxpayer advocacy group’s new report says “benefit cuts and union concessions over the past few years have led to a decline in annual pension costs for 10 cities in San Diego County while seven others that took little or no action to curb benefits saw costs increase,” U-T San Diego reports.

Solana Beach was the winner, percentage-wise, in reducing costs.

Urging Caution on Mayor’s Hoopla

CityBeat isn’t bowled over by the mayor’s declaration that the city’s “structural deficit” is history and some services like libraries and recreation facilities will get a few extra open hours: “Good news? Sure,” it says in an editorial.

“However, the structural budget doesn’t include a couple of big items: a long list of projects aimed at fixing a crumbling infrastructure that’s been neglected because there’s hasn’t been enough money, and the huge debt the city owes to its employee-pension fund.”

• The paper’s editorial also says county officials did a very good deed: they raised funds to reimburse a homeless senior whose belongings were auctioned off by a storage facility.

You may not know this from watching reality shows about storage facility auctions (I didn’t), but some of the proceeds of the auctions actually go to the people who owned the property in the abandoned units. The homeless man was owed $744, which went to the county. It couldn’t find him, so the county kept the money.

Top county official Walt Ekard said the county couldn’t legally give the money to the man now, but it could raise private contributions. Ekard didn’t announce the generosity and initially didn’t want it reported.  

Sounds like a rare example of a public official being humble. If you see something even more amazing — a journalist failing to tout his or her alleged awesomeness — please alert the media immediately!

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.