A four-month investigation by Voice of San Diego and NBC 7 San Diego uncovers a strong link between many of the high-dollar donors who give to local school bond campaigns and the spending that results if the measures win at the ballot box.

“In 13 of the 17 local school districts that have issued bonds since 2006, a significant correlation exists between the major donors to the district’s bond campaign, and the companies that won work on the bond program,” Will Carless and Wendy Fry detail in a report revealed this morning. “Several donors won contracts without going through an open, competitive process. Rather, they were hand-picked by district officials and school boards, or were chosen by a selection process that bypassed long-standing safeguards designed to ensure the public is getting the best possible deal.”

It’s not just a matter of construction companies winning bids after donating big money. “In the business of bond underwriting in particular, almost every major donation was followed by the company winning a contract from a district,” our report finds.

Donations don’t always lead to contracts, however.

Our in-depth story, based on an examination of records going back to 2006, digs deeply into the intimate world of school bond expenditures and explores efforts to fix what a former assemblyman calls a “quid pro quo” system that he says would otherwise be illegal.

Somali Refugees Feel Call from Home

Somalia may have been known as “the world’s most failed state” thanks to endless civil war, famine and ongoing chaos. But, as our Megan Burks reports, some Somali refugees who live in the City Heights neighborhood are thinking about going home.

Why? Because their African home country wants them back, and the United States thinks things are improving. “The conversation, it’s already among the community,” a young Somali resident here tells us. “People have already been back. People are planning to go back. And some people are a bit skeptical about going back and they’re not really comfortable about the situation back home.”

Our story explores the reasons why some Somalis living in City Heights may return and the ties that could keep many of them here.  

2015 Celebration CEO Calls It Quits

Local tourism official Mike McDowell is quitting his position as CEO of Balboa Park Celebration, the organization that’s producing the park’s 2015 centennial celebration, Balboa Park Celebration Inc. announced Monday.

The group’s board has appointed a search committee to find a replacement, it said in a press release. McDowell’s resignation takes effect March 1.

KPBS has some more details.

Filner Lays Down Law (Sort of) on Tourism Money

A standoff continues between Mayor Bob Filner and local tourism boosters over whether he’ll release proceeds from a disputed 2 percent tax on top of the city’s 10.5 percent hotel-room tax. In a U-T San Diego story on Sunday, Filner expanded on previous comments about what he requires to make a deal.

It sounds like he has four policy proposals in mind, but there’s no sign that the tourism industry wants to play ball at this point. Of course, this is ultimately a negotiation, and it’s early for either side to talk about what, if anything, it’s willing to compromise on.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

The scandal that’s engulfed former Mayor Maureen O’Connor is by far the biggest story to hit the city this year and has gotten plenty of national attention. She apparently lost $13 million during gambling sprees and allegedly pilfered $2 million from her late husband’s charitable foundation.

Federal prosecutors reached a deal in which she must try to pay back the money. She could still face more legal proceedings.

Here’s a roundup of coverage:

• The New York Times reports that O’Connor had a “goody two-shoes” reputation.

• The U-T calls her fall a “Shakespearean tragedy,” journalistic shorthand for all sorts of falls from great heights. In one lengthy article, the paper explores the extraordinary story of her life, one that’s been pocked in recent years by illness and loss. 

• The U-T examines how O’Connor may have spent such an extraordinary amount of money.

• The U-T’s Logan Jenkins calls O’Connor “the most mercurial, most frustrating public official imaginable, a freewheeling paradox the likes of which we’ll never see again.” 

Animals (Including Humans) Gone Wild

• The “seal cam” at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla captured video of two women harassing seals, “sitting on them, pulling their flippers, kicking them, flashing lights in their faces — until each and every one of them is driven off the beach,” a local animal lover tells CBS 8.

The seals, of course, are extremely controversial. Police have increased patrols.

• Images have emerged of a remarkable “super mega-pod” of thousands (potentially tens of thousands) of dolphins swimming off San Diego’s coast, NBC 7 reports. Check this amazing video for a glimpse.

So are the dolphins just traveling from place to place and not up to anything nefarious? Well, that’s what they’d like you to think. My theory: They’re going to have a word with those women from the Children’s Pool.

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.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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