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River Ridge Golf Club to Be Audited

Oxnard officials claim no wrongdoing but take several measures to allay concerns expressed in a grand jury report.

September 09, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Three months after the Ventura County Grand Jury accused the city of Oxnard of running the River Ridge Golf Course under a flawed and loosely controlled contract, city officials announced Monday that they will hire an independent auditor to examine fiscal operations and will clarify language in the existing agreement.

But officials stressed that they were taking these steps to help alleviate concerns the grand jury may have raised, and not because they believed the city had done anything wrong. They said the panel based its conclusions, outlined in an 11-page report issued in June, on limited information and personal opinion.

"The city is concerned that those findings, conclusions and recommendations were based merely on cursory examinations," City Manager Ed Sotelo said in the city's written response to the report. "After the city's in-depth examination of the River Ridge Golf Club operations, the city concludes that a considerable portion of the grand jury report was not based on factual data, but oftentimes, opinions."

Some key findings in the grand jury's report were:

* The city had never audited operators High Tide and Green Grass Inc.'s records to ensure that it was receiving all revenues to which it is entitled, despite provisions for such audits in the contract.

* A joint account between the city and High Tide that is used to run the golf course "appears to be improper" under state law and "avoids reasonable and mandated controls over city money."

* The city still owes the amount it borrowed 17 years ago to build the golf course -- about $10.9 million -- but gets revenue checks from High Tide every year in highly publicized ceremonies. This misleads the public as to the true cost of the golf course.

In response to the report, officials said the city will order an outside independent audit of the golf course's revenues and expenditures by Jan. 1.

As for other findings, officials said the city has never had a joint account with High Tide. They said the city does, however, have an account that is held jointly by both parties. There are sharp distinctions between the two, officials said.

A joint account is one held by multiple owners. Each owner is a signer, and each owner has the ability to make transactions on the account, officials said. An account held jointly does not make the city a signer, but gives it the authority to receive information on the account from the bank and allows the city to terminate certain activity on the account, officials said.

The language in the contract will be changed to reflect the distinction, officials said.

Regarding the accusation that the city misled the public about operating costs, officials said that the River Ridge Golf Course's primary purpose is to serve as a community recreational asset, and not to make a profit. The annual presentation ceremony is simply a status report, they said.

Information on what the city owes is available in its annual budgets and in the city's annual financial report, officials said.

City officials said they are proud of what they've accomplished at River Ridge and several referred to it as one of the city's "jewels." Plans to build a second 18-hole course are still on target, they said.

"I won't say [the contract] is easy to follow or understand, but my suggestion to the grand jury would've been to write their report and simply ask us to clarify something," Councilman Dean Maulhardt said.

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