CONCORD -- A member of the Mt. Diablo school bond committee who has been critical of district spending says officials have stonewalled her requests for information and now want her to pay $150 for public documents related to bond financing.
"There are red flags and I'm asking questions and they're not giving me the answers," said Alicia Minyen, a certified public accountant and certified fraud investigator whom trustees appointed to the 2010 Measure C Bond Oversight Committee in March. "Under the law, any abuse of funds needs to be disclosed to the public promptly. Time is of the essence. In the meantime, they're out spending the money."
For more than a month, Minyen has been asking questions about what she says are irregularities in bond spending -- raising concerns about everything from inadequate or missing audits to potentially misspent taxpayer money. She said district officials have been slow to provide necessary financial documents.
But on Thursday, district general Counsel Greg Rolen responded to Minyen's July 5 Public Records Act request by informing her she would have to pay 10-cents a page to receive 1,496 pages of documents that had been copied for her, at a cost of $149.60. The district intends make the documents available for review at a special committee meeting Monday, which has been called to specifically address her concerns, but it does not plan to distribute free copies to committee members.
Minyen wants the documents ahead if time so
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said it's unclear whether members of a bond oversight committee should have to pay for documents.
"I don't think there's anything in the law about it," he said. "I think it's inappropriate. They have a job to do. If doing that job thoroughly requires that they have access to information that is indeed relevant to their responsibilities, then I think everybody would think that it should be made available, because that's the job."
At a minimum, the district should allow Minyen to review the records at no charge and to decide which documents she wants to pay for, he said. The district should be able to provide all records digitally on a CD, then charge only for the disc, he added.
Trustee Cheryl Hansen, who was elected after the $348 million bond passed in June 2010, said she requested Monday's meeting, as the board's representative on the committee.
"My perspective on all use of public funds, including bond moneys, is that the board and district must be absolutely responsive to community requests for information as a critical component to building public trust," she said in an e-mail.
Minyen sent the committee an e-mail in July outlining her concerns. She also addressed the school board June 28 and Aug. 9, raising questions about audits, bond refinancing and the use of proceeds to pay for leases and long-term debt obligations.
Frustrated by the district's slow response, Minyen and a few other residents have formed a separate committee called "Better Schools, Brighter Futures," which is researching records and consulting with the California League of Bond Oversight Committees. Minyen's group includes Pleasant Hill City Councilman and taxpayer advocate Jack Weir, and Linda Loza, a district parent who says the 2010 Measure C campaign was misleading because it didn't disclose long-range costs or clearly state that the spending priority would be solar panels.
The group says the 2010 campaign also misled voters by saying that $250 million in construction bond money approved in a 2002 received "excellent independent audits." In fact, Minyen says, the legally required performance audits for the 2002 measure were not performed.
Instead, the district entered into "agreed-upon procedures" contracts with an auditor, which allowed the district to dictate the scope of the work and to provide financial records that she said were not audited according to generally accepted standards. No performance audit was done for fiscal year 2010.
Garin Casaleggio, spokesman for the state controller's office, said a 2000 state proposition lowered the threshold for voter approval of school construction bonds from two-thirds to 55 percent, as long as districts established bond oversight committees.
"Bond funds can only be used for facilities," Casaleggio said. "You can't use them for things like teachers' salaries, administrator salaries or other school operating expenses. The school district must publish a list of its intended projects and must arrange for two independent audits, one being a performance audit and one being a financial audit."
The controller's office criticized San Joaquin Delta College in 2008 for conducting "agreed-upon procedures" audits similar to Mt. Diablo's.
Anton Jungherr, executive director and cofounder of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, said the district should provide detailed information, to give its oversight committee credibility. His organization elected Minyen to his board of directors last week, citing her background and knowledge.
"That she had to file a records request to me is very disappointing," he said.
Several district officials wouldn't comment on Minyen's specific allegations, citing Monday's meeting as place to get answers to her questions. Late Friday, however, district Superintendent Steven Lawrence said by email that he would try to work with staff to address questions from this newspaper about Minyen's concerns.
John Parker, a member of both the 2002 and 2010 bond oversight committees, said he wants to make sure the district is spending its money appropriately.
"I think Alicia's got some concerns and I don't know if she thinks the district's doing anything nefarious or what," Parker said. "I know that she was opposed to the bond in the first place."
The chairman of both the 2002 and 2010 committees, John Ferrante, said the committee relied on the auditor to comply with legal requirements and trusted the district to provide accurate financial information. He said most members of the citizens' oversight committee, which has 15 members, wouldn't be enthusiastic about poring over detailed financial records.
"If you're going to get down to line item by line item," he said, "I don't believe that's our assignment."
Trustee Linda Mayo, who was a board liaison to the 2002 committee, said in an e-mail that she was not familiar enough with Minyen's specific allegations to comment on them. However, she said the 2002 Measure C oversight committee took its charge seriously.
"Committee members were not shy about asking questions," Mayo said. "The 2002 Measure C facilities bond built many, new modern classrooms throughout the district, modernized structures and improved classroom air quality for our students and staff through HVAC projects. MDUSD taxpayers have received much value in return for their support of the (bond)."
WHAT: Special Measure C Bond Oversight Committee meeting
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Mt. Diablo school district office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord
DETAILS: Information about the Mt. Diablo school district's 2002 and 2010 bond measures (both called Measure C) is available by calling 925-682-8000, ext. 3801 or by going to www.mdusd.org and searching "Measure C." Additional information is in the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.
Alicia Minyen, a certified public accountant, has been asking questions about what she says are irregularities in bond spending.