Ex-officio City staff on New Market Tax Credit Advisory Board = CivicSD’s latest nothingburger
By Anna Daniels
The latest news about Civic San Diego has been appearing courtesy of Lyle Moran in The Daily Transcript, which unfortunately operates behind a pay wall. Moran reports on the unexpected departure of CivicSD CFO and COO Andrew Phillips, who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to accept an invitation to work at the western division of Jones Lang LaSalle and CivicSD board member Cynthia Morgan, an attorney at Higgs Fletcher and Mack and new mother who wants to spend more time on her career and with her family.
If there is more to the resignations, Moran was not able or ready to share those motivations in his article. But it is worth noting that Cynthia Morgan was the Chair of the CivicSD board when it proposed a gag rule for board members in October of 2014. Joshua Emerson Smith reports in his CityBeat article “A fierce advocate for independence from the city, Morgan went on to propose that members of the board be required to recuse themselves from voting if they were lobbying City Council members or talking to City Council members on issues that are coming before our board.'”
Morgan was clearly referring to fellow CivicSD board members Mike Jenkins and Murtaza Baxamusa. Baxamusa recently became a plaintiff in a legal complaint against CivicSD and the filing coincided with Morgan’s resignation. Morgan’s advocacy of CivicSD’s “fierce independence from the city”– and public oversight– is precisely the problem and the point of the myriad of articles which have appeared on this site.
SDFP writer Norma Damashek describes how “CivicSD has morphed from a tool to wind down redevelopment into a shadow government with its own board of directors, paid staff, numerous departments, and stand-alone subsidiaries serviced by private lawyers and investment consultants. It’s on the receiving end of half a million dollars in annual funding from city coffers.”
Councilmember Marti Emerald sought to address citizen and city concerns about accountability and transparency in her Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods (PS & LN) committee. CivicSD’s structure and relationship to the city was shown to be an outlier among other development agencies in the state and across the country. In the March committee meeting, after extensive discussion, Emerald asked the City Attorney department to report back about the legality of appointing a representative of the Office of Independent Budget Analysis (IBA) to CivicSD’s subsidiary Economic Growth and Neighborhood Investment Fund Board.
While everyone was waiting for the City Attorney memo, CivicSD’s Economic Growth and Neighborhood Investment Fund Board which oversees the distribution of federal monies in the form of New Market Tax Credits (NMTC), voted to recommend an employee from the city’s economic development department be added to its advisory committee.
The Economic Growth and Neighborhood Investment Fund board, which is where Emerald clearly wanted city oversight, is where the real decision making occurs. The advisory committee, which was established to fulfill US Treasury Department requirements to receive NMTC’s is not a significant decision making body.
This advisory board is described in the March 13, 2014 Civic San Diego Economic Growth and Neighborhood Investment Fund minutes. The emphasis is mine.
The purpose of the Advisory Board is to act as additional representation for low-income communities and to provide additional insight for consideration by the Fund. The Advisory Board has no direct decision-making authority. The Advisory Board is required to meet at least once per year; however, it is expected that the Advisory Board will meet a minimum of three to four times per year. … At least 20 percent of the Advisory Board must be representative of the low-income communities within the Fund’s service area. The greater the representation on this board by persons with this characteristic, the greater the score earned for this category on the annual Allocation Application, thereby enhancing the competitiveness of the application….
The proposed city appointment to this toothless advisory committee is cynical and does not bode well for the negotiations occurring right now over CivicSD’s new operating contract with the city. Board members Mike Jenkins and Murtaza Baxamusa both voted against this ploy but it passed.
How long will citizens and our elected representatives sit by while CivicSD tells us yet again “You get nothing”?
Anna Daniels is a past president and board member of the City Heights Community Development Corporation and long time resident of City Heights. She is also a retired member of MEA, the Municipal Employees Association. She is a current member of the Community Budget Alliance, representing the Library Organizing Project. The opinions expressed in this article are her own.