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SANDAG Executive To Face Review For Role In Forecasting Scandal

SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos sits in a SANDAG board meeting, Aug. ...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos sits in a SANDAG board meeting, Aug. 4, 2017.

SANDAG Executive To Face Review For Role In Forecasting Scandal

GUEST:

Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

Gary Gallegos, the executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, will face a performance review by the board of directors for his role in the agency's inflated tax revenue projections. The board voted for that review after an independent investigation into the scandal.

Gary Gallegos, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, will face a performance review by the agency's board of directors for his role in a revenue forecasting scandal that has rocked the agency and prompted an independent investigation.

The results of that investigation were presented to the board at its meeting Friday morning. Chief investigator John Hueston of the Orange County-based law firm Hueston Hennigan detailed how the agency came to rely on a faulty formula to estimate how much money it would collect through a sales tax measure last year.

That error, created in 2004 when a staff member copied the wrong numbers into the formula, was used for more than a decade in SANDAG's transportation spending plans. The inflated numbers allowed the agency to promise billions of dollars in improvements to highways, streets, bikeways and public transit systems that it likely would not be able to pay for.

RELATED: Investigation Details How SANDAG Pushed Boundaries Of Public Records Law

The investigators also dug into SANDAG's response to the scandal after it was uncovered by Voice of San Diego. SANDAG General Counsel John Kirk held a meeting telling staffers to delete documents before they turned 60 days old, when they would become easier to access by journalists or members of the public. Director of Technical Services Kurt Kroninger also set up a secret folder shielded from public records requests where staffers were told to store newer "draft" documents related to the scandal.

Document

SANDAG Investigation

SANDAG Investigation

An independent investigation examines SANDAG's mistakes relating to tax measures and its mishandling of public records.

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Hueston told SANDAG board members that the use of that unsearchable folder should never have been allowed.

"It raises way too many red flags," he said. "And ultimately it created this appearance of a cover-up when in fact at the very root of all the issues here, there was an inadvertent copy paste error that caused issues in forecasting models over time."

Board members and public speakers at the meeting largely praised the investigators for their efforts, but differed on whether the investigation was proof of failures serious enough to warrant a change in leadership. Some public speakers called on board members to fire Gallegos.

"There is quite clearly a dysfunctional, demoralizing internal culture here that is not conducive to good governance or transparency," said Cori Schumacher, a Carlsbad City Council member and an alternate board member. "The responsibility here falls squarely on the executive leadership team, and specifically Mr. Gallegos. I would ask this board to call for Mr. Gallegos to resign."

Board members sitting in the meeting were less eager to criticize Gallegos directly, but some did suggest the need for personnel changes.

"Does anything that occurred internally rise to a level of a criminal investigation?" asked County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. "I don't know that. I don't think any of us do. And that's why I think we need a deeper dive on this to really make sure we do a thorough house cleaning."

Gallegos was praised by some speakers during the meeting as a dedicated civil servant who has effectively advocated for San Diego's needs at the state and federal level. County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who chairs the SANDAG board, said after the meeting that he was "not even close" to asking for Gallegos's resignation.

"At this point I want to see more information," he said. "I'm in a position where I have to balance positives against negatives and the value to this organization of these people."

The board ultimately voted unanimously to review Gallegos's performance in a future closed session meeting. It also commissioned a forensic review of SANDAG servers to determine whether any documents were deleted improperly, and it directed a subcommittee made up of three board members to come up with a more detailed plan of action in response to the investigation.

That plan of action is expected to encompass other elements of the scandal uncovered by Voice of San Diego but not reviewed in the investigation, including a shortfall of some $17.5 billion in existing SANDAG transportation spending plans that were not promptly disclosed to the board or public.

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