By David Lundin
“Follow the money, and you will find your story.”
That was the advice Woodward and Bernstein received from Deep Throat, the source that gave the Washington Post a leg up during the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced the resignation of a president. Time has done nothing to diminish the wisdom of that wise counsel.
The structural and funding flaws of Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. [BPCI”] that contributed to failure have been presented previously.
However, even these foundational flaws could have been overcome by a smart, creative, motivated, ethical and honest board.
Intentionally formed by Mayor Sanders to be a private corporation that would assert immunity from public oversight, governed by the former mayor’s allies and supporters of the Jacobs Plan for Balboa Park, and staffed by former Sanders administration senior staff, the BPCI Board had the freedom to make wise and ethical choices.
They could have decided early in the process to engage in genuine community outreach. The board could have aggressively solicited creative and informed input from the San Diego History Center, SOHO, The Balboa Park Committee of 100, local Universities, and the public at large.
Board meetings could have been public. Financial statements and details of income and expenses could have been posted on-line. The board could have been enlarged by the addition of more diverse and more qualified members. None of these steps were taken.
Instead, the board met in private, failed to engage the great expertise available from a supportive community, couldn’t be bothered to enlist a large group of highly-qualified and energized volunteers, made critical decisions in isolation, maintained ideological homogeneity, and did their very best to avoid any forms of public scrutiny or oversight.
The financial paper trail may shed some light on this issue.
Before the unproductive, wasteful, misdirected and at times comic expenditures are presented, a brief discussion of the function of a board of directors for a non-profit organization is in order. Whether that non-profit is a University, Museum, Opera or Hospital, a properly-functioning board’s duties are identical.
Briefly, the board should determine a clear mission and purpose, select a qualified chief executive, ensure effective planning, monitor and strengthen programs and services, ensure adequate financial resources, protect assets and provide proper financial oversight, build a competent board, ensure legal and ethical integrity and enhance the organization’s public standing.
In summary, focus on the Mission, raise money and do the right thing. [For more details, see here.] It’s obvious that they failed miserably in fulfilling any of these duties.
Many of the otherwise inexplicable expenditures listed below can be explained when one finally understands the BPCI board believed it could simply spend public funds to outsource the performance of its duties to third parties. That strategy unquestionably failed.
The board failed to clearly define its Mission. What would be the objectives of a Centennial year for the Park? To celebrate its past and to enhance its future? To define and privately fund “legacy” projects within the Park? To fill hotel rooms with tourists?
BPCI never had a Mission Statement, no clear sense of direction. Finances were a closely-guarded secret, and ethics ?— more on that later.
The list of payments made to third parties by BPCI tells the story of an organization with no rudder, no sails, no ability to navigate troubled waters of their own creation, and the absence of a moral or ethical compass.
This list is not all-inclusive, and is intentionally random in order of presentation:
- $467,189 paid to Autonomy, LLC of Los Angeles, an event and party planner. What did taxpayers receive in return? Lots of graphics, animations, and vague plans for parades and parties that will never happen. Almost half a million dollars spent with nothing salvageable;
- $7,832 paid to Higgs, Fletcher & Mack, a fine San Diego law firm. We don’t know why, what services were provided, or if any effort was made to locate a pro bono source for these legal services. We do know that Mitch Dubick, spouse of BPCI CEO Julie Dubick, is a partner of the law firm;
- $7,741 was paid to Ms. Blair T. Blum of La Jolla as a consultant. For doing what ? She is the Senior Vice President for External Relations [usually a fundraising position] for the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. What was she paid to do? What did she in fact do ? How was she selected? We don’t know. BPCI won’t tell us;
- Goodman Experiences was paid $24,000. For what ? The company says at its Website it is a “business coach”, specializing in “Ideation and implementation of optimal solutions….” [ “Ideation” ??? Really ????] Its principal, Ed Goodman, gives seminars on a number of New Age business topics, and is also a talented musician. Again, from the company website:
“Music…as a trumpet player, Ed has performed around the US and Canada, sharing the stage with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen, Tony Bennett, The Four Tops, Temptations, Natalie Cole, Olivia Newton John, Spyro Gyra, Pat Metheny, Tom Jones, Blood Sweat and Tears, Burt Bacharach, and Ray Charles.”
So did he perform before or after his $24,000 seminar ? Who selected this person? Who decided to pay him $24,000 from the City treasury? And what did he do?
- Lisa G. DeFino Enterprises was paid $16,000. The business name comes up on GOOGLE with an El Cajon address, but no descriptions of the business itself. What did she do that was of value to the taxpayers for her $16,000 fee ? Who selected her ? Why ? ;
- Departure Agency, Inc. was paid $64,881. An ad agency in downtown San Diego, their website [www.DPTR.co — that is NOT an error, it is “.co”. The www.DPTR.com domain is for sale currently–about $700. Too expensive, apparently.] has this stellar introduction:
“A hybrid agency that addresses business challenges through the medium of creative thought and the tools of technology. Clients range from international to startup. Industries range from biotech to fast food. Projects range from on-screen to on-paper. But we have only one belief: It works, or it doesn’t. Thanks for taking a look.”
One must objectively conclude, given BPCI’s total failure and collapse, Departure did not work so well. Again, what did they do? Who selected them? What value did San Diego receive for its $64,881? A lot of things in the Park could have been repaired and repainted for this sum.
- Hiroko Kusano was paid $12,350. She is a Los Angeles museum Web consultant. On her website, she says “…she lead the startup of a new non-profit called the Balboa Park Conservancy in San Diego….” Sources at the Conservancy, a corporation separate and apart from BPCI, say this “massively overstates the scope of Ms. Kusano’s work.” No idea what she did for BPCI, who selected her and who decided her services were a necessity. BPCI isn’t talking;
- J & S Silverman, a consultant to non-profits lead by one Jacqueline Silverman, was paid $131,540. BPCI won’t disclose what work was done, what value was received, or how Silverman was selected;
- Mark Germyn, the first CEO of BPCI, was paid $ 131,540 for less than one year on the job;
- Michael McDowell, the second of the three CEOs of BPCI, was paid $181,862 for less than a year of employment;
- Julie Dubick, the third CEO, was paid $15,000.00 a month. She resigned after a disastrous appearance before the Tourist Marketing District Board where she sought additional millions in public money, but she could not explain how the funds would be used;
- Marketing Partnership Solutions, AKA “BLEGS, Inc./Marketing Partnership” was paid $80,272 at a monthly rate of $10,000.00 for “fundraising consulting”. Barry Siegle is the sole owner. Neither he nor his company have any experience in large-scale non-profit fundraising. Mr. Siegle’s Facebook page lists BPCI Board co—chairs, Ben and Nikki Clay, and Board Member Patti Roscoe as “Friends”;
- Ms. Cynthia Polger was paid $3,040 to attend social events as “fundraising outreach.” BPCI has produced no documents showing any success in fundraising or professional qualifications as a fundraising consultant. Ms. Polger is a social friend of Julie Dubick;
- Departure Agency, Inc. was paid $64,881.00 for creative services, and logo and branding counsel. BPCI agonized over “Branding” of the Centennial, but not so much on the content of the event;
- Gerry Braun and Associates, the former Mayor Sanders PR flack who’s been dodging the press and the public, was paid $115,044 at the rate of $8,000.00 a month for not more than 20 hours a week of part-time work. He continues working for BPCI at an undisclosed salary to oversee the wind-down;
- Loma Media Partners was paid $463,799 at a rate of $37,500.00 a month for design, marketing video production and event consulting, work now having no salvage value; and
- M.W. Steele Group, Inc. architecture and planning company, was paid $8,320.00 for unknown services. BPCI board minutes for April 17, 2012 recite that Steven Silverman, whom we believe to be a principal at Steel Group, was hired at an hourly rate of $95.00 “to assist in day-to-day operations” of BPCI. They have not released records showing what work was performed or what value received by BPCI.
There are other unexplained expenses. However, this list does a fine job of illustrating a pattern of disarray, confusion, waste and the ever-present outsourcing of fundraising obligations by the board.
Creative agencies were hired, paid large sums to create some coherent themes that might generate financial support, then dismissed. New firms were hired, new concepts were presented, and they were in turn let go and replaced again. Friends and relatives of board members were retained and paid for no-bid, no competition contracts.
With out a coherent mission or fundraising plans tied to a compelling mission, they were doomed to failure from the start.
When asked to make BPCI records public, executive staff and board members all resisted making any significant voluntary public disclosures. They believed they had the right to take public funds and spend those funds as they saw fit in private, with no obligation to account to the public for their actions.
Patricia A. McQuarter is a member of the BPCI Board and experienced lawyer. In an email to her fellow board members dated February 25, 2014, she eloquently expressed their collective arrogance and conceit. She advocates a strategy of absolute non-disclosure of the damaging facts, coupled with partial disclosure of benign numbers in an orchestrated effort to lull the public, Mayor and City Council into inaction:
“I think it may be time for BPCI to get legal counsel to deal with Mr. Lundin. Clearly he is not going to go away and the mayor-elect seems to be siding with him (according to today‘s paper). I spoke with Ben [Clay] yesterday and suggested we…post some financial information on our website…. This will dispel the notion we are wasting money without waiving any right to not be subjected to the public records provisions.
It’s time for the Mayor and full City Council to tell BPCI, its executive staff and board members that deceit and non-disclosure, closed doors, private financial records, and playing “Hide and Seek” with the public’s money are not standard and acceptable practices for the City of San Diego.
In a reversal of roles, perhaps truly open and transparent government in San Diego will be the “legacy” Centennial gift the Park gives to all of us.
David Lundin is the President/Creative Director at Son Appareil Photography, and has filed numerous California Public Records Act requests seeking release of information about BPCI