Winners named at Golden Watchdog & Golden Fleece Awards Dinner

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From our own Gayle Falkenthal…

SDCTA Announces Golden Watchdog & Golden Fleece Award Recipients

(San Diego) – Smart outsourcing and public financing initiatives took top honors while spending boondoggles and pension gimmicks were publicly shamed at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association (SDCTA)’s 16th annual Golden Watchdog and Golden Fleece Awards Dinner, held at the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center in Mission Valley.

A boisterous crowd cheered —and tweeted – as recipients were announced and elected officials bravely went for laughs at their own expense, playing on this year’s program theme, “San Diego’s Hangover.”

Golden Watchdog Awards highlight 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 are given to government programs and services that exemplify the wasteful, inefficient or downright absurd use of taxpayer dollars.

The Metro Golden Fleece recipients are the cities of Oceanside and Chula Vista, “Playing the Pension Shell Game,” for the accounting trickery they used to allow employees to “bump” their pension benefits.  We don’t recommend playing poker with these folks.

Also nominated were the City of Poway, “Water Policy Rolling Downhill;” the Centre City Development Corporation, “A Losing Game of Bridge;” and the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System Board (SDCERS), “Generous to a Fault.”

The Regional Golden Fleece recipient is San Diego SAFE, “SAFE Cracking,” earned for continuing to collect fees for the built-out and antiquated freeway callbox system, and using the money for loosely-related purchases.  San Diego SAFE is treating taxpayers like fiscal roadkill.

Runners-up were the San Diego Unified School District, “Aloha to Taxpayers’ Money;” and Southwestern College, “Is There a Manager in the House?”

This year’s Grand Golden Fleece was presented to Sweetwater Union High School District for its declaration of “Let the Taxpayers Eat Wedding Cake!” First the District financed promotional materials that conveniently spotlighted the board president, who was up for re-election in the midst of a budget crisis.  The Superintendent also invited district contractors and employees to his daughter’s bridal shower, complete with a “money tree.”  Then it was revealed that the Superintendent charged $11,000 on the District’s credit card to pay for meals and travel – above and beyond his $800 monthly stipend already allocated for such expenses. Who’s the real Bridezilla here?

A new category this year, “Repeat Offender,” was created to recognize previous fleece winners who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.  The winner of this dubious distinction is the City of Carlsbad, “Tripping Up with a Triple Bogey,” for its municipal golf course that’s been soaking up taxpayer funds like a sponge.  The city will be on the hook for $1.4 million next year in costs to maintain the course.  Let’s hope Carlsbad finds a way to get out of this taxation bunker.

Other repeat offenders nominated for this “award” were the Tri-City Hospital District, “The ‘All My Children’ of Hospital Districts;” and the City of Chula Vista, “Return of the Taxasaurus.”

The “It’s About Time” award, given to overdue initiatives that are otherwise praiseworthy, was handed out to the County of San Diego, “Electricity Procurement Strategy.” The County finally took advantage of a “live” purchasing strategy, rather than utilizing a flat rate, in order to achieve savings for its energy costs.  While this strategy has been available and used by private businesses for years, we applaud the County’s actions, which have already saved taxpayers over $3 million.

Also nominated in this category were the City of San Diego, “Downtown Homeless Shelter;” and San Diego LAFCO, “Sewer District Consolidation.”

This year’s Public-Private Partnership winner is the Coalition to Keep Comic-Con in San Diego, “Economic Superheroes.” This coalition, including San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, the San Diego Convention Center, local hoteliers and business and other community leaders, came to the rescue to keep this profitable and high-profile event in our region through 2015.

Runners-up for this award included the City of San Diego, “Graffiti Control Program;” and the Boy Scouts and City of Imperial Beach, “Public Works Partnerships.”

The Metro Golden Watchdog award went to the City of San Diego, “Re-Bid of City Help Desk Contract.” The City’s smart decision to award a $1.2 million contract for outsourcing the City’s Help Desk services is anticipated to save the City over $1 million each year through fiscal year 2013.  No viruses or bugs in this program.

Also named as finalists were the City of Solana Beach, “Comprehensive Pension Reform;” and the City of Carlsbad, “Reform of Firefighter Pensions.”

The Regional Golden Watchdog Award was presented to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, “Green Light for Green Build at San Diego International Airport.” The Airport Authority acted swiftly in order to secure $573 million in bonds at an interest rate of 4.38 percent.  This is the lowest rate in the nation for an airport-related long-term bond sale.  As a result, the Airport Authority expects to save $40 million over the life of the bonds.

A “throwback” award was given to the Del Mar, Encinitas and Solana Beach Fire Departments and the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District, “North County Fire Departments’ Cooperative Efforts,” for their money-saving personnel-sharing agreement.  Begun in 2009 and enhanced last year, this agreement saved taxpayers in these cities $1 million in its first year.

This year’s highest honor, the Grand Golden Watchdog Award, was presented to the North County Transit District, “Privatization Rolling Right Along.” Facing drastically-reduced revenues, the District outsourced its bus operations and maintenance, and restructured its paratransit services.  These actions will have reduced the District’s internal labor costs from 41 to 12 percent of its budget by fiscal year 2012, and are anticipated to save $53 million over the next seven years.  NCTD knows how to drive a good deal for taxpayers.

The Print/Electronic Media Watchdog winner is Christopher Cadelago, San Diego Union-Tribune, “County Pays Out Unused Sick Time – Most Don’t,” for a well-researched examination of government fiscal policies.  The Broadcast Media Watchdog winners are J.W. August, Lauren Reynolds, Mitch Blacher, Christian Cazares, 10News and Greg Moran, San Diego Union-Tribune, “State Court Costs Overlooked Due to Loophole,” for revealing less than transparent oversight practices in funding maintenance and repairs in the County’s courthouses.

SDCTA’s first-ever “Stay Classy, San Diego” award goes to reporter Gene Cubbison, NBC San Diego, for a career of excellence in reporting on government issues over several decades.

Full details on all the award nominees are posted on SDCTA’s website,

Recipients were announced at SDCTA’s annual awards dinner at the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center in Mission Valley. Now in its 16th 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. Nominations are already open for the 17th Annual Golden Watchdog and Golden Fleece Awards. Contact the San Diego County Taxpayers Association at (619) 234-6423 or email


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