Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Dark Underside of C-Tran and Proposition 1

Like many other people, I am one who doesn’t appreciate being manipulated, not by anybody, especially government or agencies set up and maintained by government. What with the recent release of an independent audit of C-Tran Finances pertaining to Proposition 1, another demand for more tax dollars and copied emails between the auditor and certain elected officials in Clark County, all I see is pure manipulation on the part of C-Tran Board of Directors.

We’ve seen the article in the Columbian here of forensic auditor Tiffany Couch’s independent audit that leans heavily on C-Tran’s refuting her work and the Columbians refusal to post Ms. Couch’s point by point rebuttal of their assertions here, but the email exchange between Ms. Couch and County Commissioner Steve Stuart is a real eye opener.

Beyond the Columbians efforts to discredit her analysis due to her being hired by David Madore to independently audit CRC finances to see where over $140 Million of our tax dollars has gone, a task completely separate of C-Tran finances, commissioner Stuart, who ran for reelection with the promise of we would be given a vote this year on light rail operations and maintenance that he promptly joined others in preventing after winning, comes across as accusatory towards Ms. Couch and her analysis.

Stuart says,
“I think staff is very appropriately answering the numeric claims you made, and I'm not an accountant so I won't delve deeply into those. I was, however, a quantitative analyst trained to use statistics in product research, so I do know that there are certainly ways to manipulate numbers to help them say what you want to hear (the main reason I left statistics for law school - ironic. :)). We will follow up to make sure that isn't the case in C-Tran staff's numbers, and I would think it very sad if you were doing that, just before an election that means so much to some of the people most in need in our County. Sad as a Rotarian trying to pass a 4-way test, or as a professional with a strong code of ethics. Ironic, though, considering that exact claim of manipulating numbers has been leveled by you and others against the CRC.”
Ms. Couch responded,
“To imply that I, as a Certified Public Accountant, and Certified Fraud Examiner would manipulate numbers with respect to my analysis of C-Tran is disappointing. I’ve not done that in this case. Can you please point out, exactly, where you believe I’ve somehow manipulated the numbers? I’ve been VERY clear about the intent of my analysis, and how I came up with my calculations. I’ve sourced each and every number I’ve used (all which are C-Tran’s numbers, by the way). I had my report peer reviewed by no less than 5 other CPA’s and/or Public Transportation experts.”

“To imply that I have manipulated numbers to make them “say what I want people to hear” is simply untrue.”
County Commissioner Marc Boldt chimes in with his own accusatory threat,
“Tiffiny.this is a very important budget matter between you and have stated this is not public but you have made it public.You have , in my view. told the public that c-tran employees have convinced the board to place a measure on the ballot when we have excess cash. I have spent alot of time this year on our budget numbers as well as the state auditor . I do have more faith in our numbers than yours however I will seek to find answers to the truth and hold either you or c- tran accountable .” (Spelling and punctuation errors from original)
Ms. Couch replied to commissioner Boldt,
“I have never stated that this was “not public”. I’m not sure where you get this information?”

“I also never told the public that C-Tran employees have convinced the board of anything. Again, where did you get the information? Rather, I was informed from C-Tran employees that they abide by what the board members and board policies direct them to do. This was directly stated to me, and is exactly what one would expect. Management of any organization must abide by what the board of that organization agrees (or does not agree) to do. Based on C-Tran’s 20 year plan and 2011-2012 budget documents as well as the 2000-2010 CAFRS, board policies are clearly stated. Those policies were confirmed by Mr. Hamm and Ms. O’Regan on Wednesday.”
What is this policy that has both commissioner’s Stuart and Boldt in such a turmoil that has now been revealed to the public?
“If Proposition 1 fails to pass, current C-Tran board policy indicates that High Capacity Transit project costs will take higher priority over current levels of bus service; causing bus service to decline or to be eliminated." You back that up with an unidentified quote from C-Tran staff: “When asked whether these initiatives would continue to take place if Proposition 1 fails, the answer was, “these are Policy decisions made by the Board of Directors and these initiatives will move forward.” In essence, it appears that current levels of bus service would be reduced or eliminated if Proposition1 were to fail; because the cost of these High Capacity Transit initiatives would take higher priority.”
Challenged by Commissioner Stuart as to just who expressed that policy, Ms. Couch replied,
“So, in answer to your first question, I’m quoting C-Tran CEO, Jeff Hamm.”

“Here’s the context of that conversation. Which also answers your second question. In reviewing all documents related to this issue, including: your “Public Transit Ballot Measure” marketing information on your website related to Prop 1; your 2011-2012 Budget; and, your C-Tran 2030 plan – the only information that I could find related to the potential budget cuts if Prop 1 didn’t pass was related to current bus service.”

“However, your board approved budgets and plans had millions of dollars of High Capacity Transit expenditures included in them. And:
• In no public messaging could I find references from C-Tran staff or board members that indicated that they needed the Proposition 1 funds because they were dedicating over $11M to High Capacity Transit expenditures in the next 5 years.
• In no public messaging, could I find references that indicated that the depletion of reserve funds would be accelerated because of High Capacity Transit expenditures, thus necessitating additional tax dollars from the citizens of Clark County.
• In no public messaging could I find references to the axing of said High Capacity Transit expenditures should Proposition 1 not pass.
• C-Tran is sitting on $47 million worth of unrestricted cash…yet only burning $2M worth of cash per year. Where is that in your messaging?”

“Those FACTS begged the question that any reasonable person would make based on this research. The very same question I posed to Mr. Hamm. Which was, “If Prop 1 doesn’t pass, are you telling me that C-Tran is going to cut bus service FIRST before the planned High Capacity Transit expenditures?” Mr. Hamm said to me, “These are board policies, Tiffany. Management of C-Tran can only implement the policies made by the board.” To which I replied, (by picking up the Ballot Measure piece from your website) “Well, Jeff, doesn’t the public deserve to know that this is the case? It does not say that anywhere on this material”. To which he replied that C-Tran has complied with all requirements of the information that needed to be put out to the voters.”
Being accused by Commissioner Stuart of the appearance of “not independently or objectively analyzing this issue, but instead cloaking your politics in your profession,” due to the timing of the release Ms. Couch responded in part,
“I have been sitting on this information for a long time. And the more I looked at it, the more troublesome it became. But I was afraid. I was afraid of the backlash it would cause me. I was afraid that people would think that David Madore was “behind this”. I was afraid to receive emails like the one you sent me today. But then…I looked in the mirror. I realized that I was a citizen of the United States of America. I realized that I was a CPA; someone with a DUTY to inform the PUBLIC of items in their best interest. And, yes, I realized that I was a Rotarian. I had an obligation to inform my fellow citizens of the information that I had. To sit on that information would have been in direct violation of everything I stand for.”
As we all can see, that is exactly what has happened. One brave person standing against the power elite that would cut off seniors and handicapped from bus service they can easily afford to maintain, all to continue the pursuit of an expensive bus and light rail system we do not need and have three times now expressed in our votes that we do not want.

Nowhere in any pro-Proposition 1 material is the public informed of this intent. And the person who brings it out is attacked and demeaned in classic shoot the messenger style, not only by our local so-called newspaper but by elected officials because of information voters have a right to know.

This is the dark underside of Clark County today and is clearly a manipulation of the public by a small number of power elites who ignore Clark County citizens in order to force upon us what we have said in the past we do not want.

If you haven’t marked and turned in your ballot for this Tuesday’s election, what more reason do you need to reject Proposition 1 than this?

Complete emails may be seen HERE and HERE

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