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State audit criticizes Maywood spending

MAYWOOD — In a highly critical report, a state audit released Oct. 3 found that the city of Maywood faces significant financial challenges that have led to a financial deficit of more than $15 million, two times the operating costs of Los Angeles County’s second smallest city.

According to Margarita Fernandez of the State Auditor’s office, the city’s problems include wasteful spending and failing to collect potential revenue by not trying to collect money for parking tickets.

Fernandez also said the city was “not in compliance with the Brown Act,” by holding closed-session discussions of subjects that state law designated for public hearings, failing to publish the agenda ahead of time and then taking action on some items that weren’t on the agenda.

According to the audit, the mayor and City Council failed to oversee former City Manager Lilian Myers, during her five-year term, continuing to extend her contract while also adopting amendments restricting its own ability to dismiss her.

The report’s release immediately led to finger-pointing by members of the City Council trying to lay blame for the city’s shortcomings.

“The report clearly lays the blame for our current financial situation at the doorstep of the former city manager and her lack of duty and responsibility to the residents of this fine city,” Councilman Sergio Calderon said in a statement.

Calderon, who was elected to the City Council in November 2015 and voted to dismiss Myers the next month, said he couldn’t understand why former Mayor Eduardo De La Riva and the City Council allowed Myers to remain in control.

“It was obvious to me, once I assumed office, that her work was unacceptable and the new City Council needed to move to dismiss her immediately,” Calderon said.

But De La Riva, who still sits on the council, maintains the financial problems began long before Myers took control, and have worsened under interim City Administrator Reuben Martinez, who is supported by Calderon

De La Riva said current Mayor Ramon Medina, who was elected with Calderon last year, hired Martinez, a laid-off Boeing project manager, whom he met as a customer at his auto shop earlier this year. Martinez had no municipal government experience and did not go through any vetting process or job interview. De La Riva said the city is paying Martinez a $140,000 yearly salary.

The state audit also found fault with a $250 monthly mileage reimbursement the city pays to its council members and elected city clerk and treasurer. The city covers about only 1.14 square miles. Using the Internal Revenue Service’s suggested reimbursement rate of 54 cents per mile, city officials would need to drive 463 miles a month on city business to reach the $250 mark.

“Even though they knew the city was struggling financially, they decided to reward themselves with $250,” De La Riva said. The audit recommends ending this policy.

De La Riva also accused Calderon and Councilman Tom Martin of hosting a party at City Hall last Dec. 9, the night Calderon and Medina were sworn in as council members.

The city was billed for $3,250 by Sutton Restaurant Management, the owner of which contributed to Calderon’s campaign, De La Riva said.

The audit was conducted over the past 12 months. It determined that the city’s history of overspending began in December 2007 and has continued since.

The report also states that a review of city council meetings held between December 2015 and May 2016 revealed six Brown Act violations, three of which “involved important hiring decisions.”

Martinez, the interim city administrator, said the audit also pointed to weak or non-existent accounting practices, and the city is “working to correct that situation immediately.”

“At the time of the audit, we had already begun to correct our accounting practices and protocols to ensure that we’re protecting the public’s interests and money, and we will use the auditor’s recommendations to [further] tighten up our administrative practices and procedures,” Martinez said. “With the support from the city council and advice from a professional financial expert we’re moving forward to adopt and implement sound accounting and operations procedures that will bring the city back from the brink of financial ruin.”

The highly volatile political situation hasn’t helped matters.

“My city is a mess,” De La Riva said. “What the city needs to do now to move forward is hiring a city manager with experience that can help properly manage the city. We also need a council majority that places the well-being and the interests of the city first.”