Journalism won’t die if you donate. Support Voice of San Diego today!

A National City candidate’s history with a troubled nonprofit is raising concerns that a potential city treasurer may be bad with money.

Ditas Yamane was the bookkeeper of an organization meant to use property taxes to fund improvements in a special business district in National City.

The organization, Morgan Square Inc., didn’t provide the city with required financial reports for years and after its contract with the city ended, failed to return the money collected. National City sued and the eventual settlement left Yamane’s organization roughly $250,000 in debt to the city.

After her involvement in a matter where the proper use of taxpayer funds was brought into question and an obligation to transparently report the use of such funds was repeatedly not met, Yamane is running for a position that oversees the management, budgeting and use of the city and taxpayer funds.

When National City filed a lawsuit against Morgan Square, in 2013, the nonprofit had been in charge of managing funds for the Morgan Square Business Improvement District, according to the complaint.

Business improvement districts are collaborations between a city and businesses in which a group of businesses in the same area band together and charge themselves fees, then use the money on improvements that will benefit the businesses.

The Morgan Square Business Improvement District was formed by the city in 2004. It included several businesses, including some property owned by National City or its Community Development Commission, which has since been dissolved.

The CDC, which had authority over the district, had contracted with Morgan Square in 2005. Its job was to ensure that money collected from property owners within the district’s bounds would go toward improvements, according to court documents.

Beginning in 2008, the organization stopped providing annual reports it was required to provide to the city. In 2010, its contract ended with the city. The organization was supposed to return the leftover funds to the city and the other private entities that had paid into the tax district, court documents said.

That didn’t happen, and the city had paid more than $1.1 million from its tax assessments in the district to Morgan Square, so it sued the organization.

Three years later, in March 2016, the city settled with the organization. It required a third-party auditor to look at how much money was left and how it had been used.

In an August City Council meeting, an audit confirmed that the organization was to turn over roughly $250,000 to the city.

The city attorney’s office said most of the funds have since been returned.

Yamane said she couldn’t comment on the case without the rest of the Morgan Square’s board permission. But she said the case isn’t reflective of her abilities to serve as city treasurer. She points to her time as a National City planning commissioner and her service on Sweetwater Union High School’s Citizen Bond Oversight Committee as examples of her experience.

“It’s Morgan Square,” she said. “It’s not me, it’s an organization. People are looking at me because I’m running for office.”

City Treasurer Mitch Beauchamp, who is running against Yamane for the position, says her role in the Morgan Square issue is concerning, considering that if she’s elected, she’ll be overseeing the management of taxpayer funds.

“She was in charge of the money,” Beauchamp said. “I’m just really concerned.”

Yamane maintains that the case gives no reason for people to be concerned about her candidacy.

“These speculations are just speculation,” she said. “It’s unfortunate. You’re not going to stop anyone from guessing or judging. I am capable. I have held a lot of leadership positions with integrity and success. I believe with the choice for city treasurer is me.”

Maya Srikrishnan

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

Leave a comment

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.