Smart governing decisions saving taxpayer dollars and collaborative initiatives took top honors, while cavalier attitudes and lost opportunities were called out and shamed at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association (SDCTA)’s 17th annual Goldens Awards Dinner, held at the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center in Mission Valley.
Remote controls were nowhere in sight as the evening’s theme “Taxpayer TV: We Can’t Make This $#!% Up!” entertained the appreciative audience who shared the details of the exclusive video parodies highlighting the program via social media. As in past programs, elected officials, members of the news media and other public figures willingly humiliated themselves in a good-natured send-up of the year in government news and achievements in San Diego.
Among the highlights: Bob Filner kicking back in a Hawaiian shirt for Happy Hour; the Taxpayer TV bullpen starring Rostra’s own Barry Jantz among others; and Walt Ekard’s impromptu song as he accepted the Grand Golden Watchdog along with County Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox.
Golden Watchdog Awards recognize and honor smart, sensible practices in taxpayer-funded programs, and public service reporting on issues of concern to taxpayers. Media Watchdog Awards reward journalists who uncover poor governance and wasteful public spending practices. Golden Fleeces shine a spotlight on government programs and services that exemplify the wasteful, inefficient or downright absurd use of taxpayer dollars – and the bad attitudes that sometimes lead to bad decisions.
This year’s Grand Golden Fleece was presented to the Otay Water District, “Game of Thrones.” The Otay Water District voted to provide free lifetime health and dental benefits to their managers and unrepresented employees in July 2011, responding to the public outcry with “let them eat cake.” One month later, the board then extended those same benefits to all employees in an August 2011 vote. Ratepayers have seen their water rates soar more than 40% in recent years and voiced vehement opposition. As a result, the District’s unfunded liability will increase by more than 90%. Not even the Lannisters could have come up with such twisted plots.
Winner of this year’s highest honor, the Grand Golden Watchdog Award, is the County of San Diego for “Better Than Extreme Couponing.” As a result of cost saving measures over the past decade, the County of San Diego Capital Program will save taxpayers approximately $1.46 billion over the next 30 years by paying cash for one-time capital improvement projects rather than financing them with long-term debt thanks to having the foresight to set aside the funds to do so. Suze Orman would approve!
The 2012 Metro Golden Fleece recipient is the City of San Diego, “Let’s Not Make a Deal.” The City attempted to enter into a no-bid exclusive 28-year deal for security services at Qualcomm Stadium in 2006. When the long-term contract and ultimate cost to the taxpayers was revealed, the City finally went out to bid. The City received cost-saving offers from five other companies, but still decided to go with the original contractor. After a protest was filed and upheld because the City failed to follow specified procedures and requirements, the City has finally AGAIN re-bid the contract. Meanwhile taxpayers are still paying for the high-priced original contract. We call this a zonk.
Runner-ups include the City of Escondido, “D’oh!;” the City of San Diego, “Extreme Makeover, Bureaucracy Edition;” and the City of Oceanside, “So You Think You Can Dance?”
The 2012 Regional Golden Fleece recipient is the San Diego Unified School District, “Calling Mister Rogers!” The District’s Early Childhood Education Program failed to meet filing deadlines under its contract with the Neighborhood House Association. It not only lost $2.7 million in reimbursed expenses as a result, but also cost the program its First 5 funding. It also spent money on a questionable study regarding a Project Stabilization Agreement for Prop S. Someone needs to school these folks.
Also nominated were Southwestern Community College District, “American Idle;” and Sweetwater Union High School District, “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Back for its second year by popular demand, the “Repeat Offender” category was created to recognize previous fleece winners who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Bagging this prize is the San Diego SAFE Board, “Mad Men (and Women).” A Regional Golden Fleece winner last year, SAFE didn’t take the hint and trim its spending. Instead, it spent even more money on questionable marketing campaigns and extending agreements without competitive bids for managing the system. Don Draper would be proud.
Also nominated was perennial repeat offender, the Tri-City Hospital District, “Keeping Up With The Klaims.”
This year’s Public-Private Partnership winner is Project 25, “Get Smart” a collaboration by the City and the County of San Diego, the United Way, and the local non-profit sector. The program targets individuals among the chronically homeless who require the greatest amount of services, and offers them help stopping the cycle of costly problems by supporting them with services designed to get their lives on track. Project 25 is projected to save $5 million in its first year and offer a fresh start to individuals previously written off.
Additional Public-Private Partnership finalists include theVallecitos Water District and Sustain San Marcos, “Roll Out the Barrel,” and the City of San Diego and Car2Go, “Taking the Checkered Flag.”
The Golden Watchdog award went to the Port of San Diego,”The Price Is Right,” for its procurement reform policies, which have been streamlined to reduce costs and ensure best practices are in place.
Additional noteworthy finalists include the City of San Diego, “Reform Roadshow,” and multiple agencies including the Port Authority, Metropolitan Transit District, North County Transit District, and 11 cities for “Book ‘Em, Danno!”
The Print/Electronic Media Watchdog winners are Ashly McGlone, Wendy Fry, and the U-T San Diego Watchdog Team for its coverage of the Sweetwater Union High School District’s fiscal and governance irregularities.The Broadcast Media Watchdog winners for a third straight year are from KGTV 10 News including J.W. August, Mitch Blacher, and 10 News I-Team Investigations, “I-Team reveals Court spending bill could impact $2B computer system,” for revealing ongoing problems with development of a statewide court records system.
Full details on all the award nominees are posted on SDCTA’s website, www.sdcta.org.
Now in its 17th year, the Golden Watchdog & Golden Fleece Awards Dinner gives the public an opportunity to voice compliments and criticisms of government spending by nominating programs that highlight the smart and not-so-smart decisions of the past year. SDCTA receives dozens of nominations from individuals and organizations throughout San Diego County.
But there’s never any rest for the wicked – and SDCTA can’t let Taxpayer TV’s ratings drop! Nominations are already open for the 18th Annual Golden Watchdog and Golden Fleece Awards. Contact the San Diego County Taxpayers Association at (619) 234-6423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, could I please get my bleeping priceless “F*** You, Steve” t-shirt back from Mayor Sanders?
DISCLOSURE: SDCTA is a client of my public relations firm, Falcon Valley Group.