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City Moves to Put Money Affairs in Order : Finances: In the wake of apparent spending improprieties by the former city manager, council adopts new guidelines and begins a search for accountants who will perform more complete audits.

July 22, 1993|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRADBURY — In a sweeping effort to put its financial house in order, the Bradbury City Council this week let go of its city treasurer, searched for an accounting firm to do more complete audits and adopted new guidelines for fiscal management, including a job description that calls on the treasurer to "question financial policies or procedures which don't make sense."

The steps taken Tuesday represent a new way of doing city business in Bradbury, where the council, the mayor, the treasurer and the auditors asked few questions about how former City Manager Aurora (Dolly) Vollaire spent city money. Vollaire was fired in April after city officials discovered that she had apparently spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on personal luxuries, including fine china and designer sunglasses.

The scandal also led to a recall move against Mayor Audrey Hon, who signed the expense lists and checks that covered Vollaire's purchases. The council Tuesday set a Nov. 2 date for the recall election.

And in response to a separate scandal, the council retained a Whittier firm to audit a special municipal tax district. That district funneled nearly $500,000 in county taxpayer money over the past decade to pay for 24-hour private security guards at the affluent gated enclave of Bradbury Estates.

Payment to Lance, Soll & Lunghard will come in the form of a purchase order, part of Bradbury's reformed fiscal guidelines now in place. The city never used purchase orders before; Vollaire used credit cards or petty cash or had city checks cut, often without the council's approval.

"You'll be our first purchase order tomorrow," interim City Manager Keene Wilson proudly told Donald L. Parker, one of the firm's partners.

As council members perused the list of monthly city checks--lists to which Vollaire previously added dozens of checks after the council had reviewed them--they noted a small dotted line in the lower left corner of each page. That's where the mayor's initials go, to prevent a recurrence of Vollaire's tactic.

"I thought the meeting went well," Wilson said of the changes that are shaping a new Bradbury.

The Nov. 2 special election was called to put Hon's recall to the voters and determine whether to replace her by appointment or election if she is voted out.

Residents in the district of Councilman Tom Melbourn have also launched a recall drive and plan to turn in their petitions today, said Robert Penney Jr., a critic of city government who uncovered both scandals. If the required number of those signatures are certified, Melbourn's recall will be added to the Nov. 2 ballot by a council vote in August, the council said.

Some residents who filled the tiny council chambers Tuesday spoke up to defend Hon, and said blame for the fiscal fiascoes that have rocked the city should be spread evenly.

Responding to an article that appeared in The Times reporting that Vollaire often shopped at the Price Club with blank checks that had been pre-signed by the mayor and treasurer, Douglas W. Bradley asked how many former mayors had signed blank checks.

Councilman John H. Richards, a former mayor, has acknowledged that he signed blank checks each month because he was often away from City Hall.

"It seems to me a rather harsh approach that some of my neighbors take, to try to run Audrey (Hon) out of town," Bradley said. "I think there's some shared culpability here."

The council accepted the resignation of former treasurer Betty Christensen, who worked for the city for five years as a volunteer and who had no accounting experience. Christensen had acknowledged that she never reviewed the receipts that Dolly Vollaire submitted to back up her purchases. Those receipts, The Times found in a review of city documents, were frequently cut to eliminate the name of the vendor and the item purchased; other receipts clearly showed purchases for items, such as red shoes, that had nothing to do with city business.

The council also discussed progress in the search for an accounting firm that would perform more comprehensive audits than the Pasadena CPA firm of McGladrey & Pullen had, including yearly reviews of internal financial controls and management practices. The firm, which also is invited to submit bids, never found the cut receipts or misspending. Spokesmen for the auditors later told the city that they were not paid to perform such a thorough audit.

The council also agreed to fund a comprehensive audit of District-1A, which financed Bradbury Estates' guards for a decade.

The Whittier accounting firm was retained to produce an audit of where the money went as well as explore the history of the district--how it shifted from a direct assessment paid for only by those who received services, to a district supported by general county property tax.

"We have to find out where the money came from, and where it was spent," said Don Burnett, president of the Woodlyn Lane Assn., a vocal opponent of the taxpayer dollars spent to guard his neighbors' gate up the hill, while his association pays for its own gate and does not have guards.

The council received a brief report from City Atty. C. Edward Dilkes on the ongoing district attorney's investigation of Vollaire, but he said it remains unclear when or if she will be indicted.

In closed session, the council also plodded through negotiations with Vollaire's attorney, Rayford Fountain, on possible restitution by his client.

"We are continuing to insist on full restitution, including interest," Wilson said.

Fountain said he planned to offer the city $40,000, which Dilkes has said is not acceptable. A report by McGladrey & Pullen estimated the misspent funds to be at least $84,000.

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