This letter was submitted to Patch by former ASNC treasurer Mark Legassie in response to an
Here are important details to help understand the series of events for the most recent round of items brought up by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) via Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC) President Martha Benedict and Treasurer Judy Knapton.
Both women keep grasping for new straws after repeatedly being proven wrong. I regret that the public also gets to see this pattern of vengeful behavior which is contradictive of community leaders.
Before I provide the details to shed the true light on these trumped up allegations, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I'm really tired of this being tried in the media, one drop at a time, one "gotcha" after another. Each of these allegations I could have explained person-to-person two months ago. I handled more than $100,000 in public funds, giving more "say so" to the actual ASNC stakeholders than ever before and pretty much flawlessly accounting for it until the last few weeks--when DONE's rollover pullback and whiplash deadline dates caused some technical errors amounting to the tune of a few hundred dollars (less than 1 percent of what I was responsible for). I think enough is enough.
I served the ASNC as treasurer for almost as long as the last three treasurers combined, and dealt with more neighborhood council changes and contradictions than anyone (loss of "petty cash", changing budget formats and loss and restoration of rollover funds). And always, always, neighborhood councils have been forced to use manual, old-fashioned forms with contradicting instructions, and are required to submit more justification for use of city funds than any other department.
The most work, however, is needed to educate ASNC's current president and treasurer on the basics of neighborhood council finance rules, as well as local ethics policies and the impropriety of using public office to retaliate against someone, especially for personal reasons. Finally, if they only understood the meaning of "neighbor" in Neighborhood Council, we could have avoided all of this.
If Knapton and Benedict had called me in October, I could have accounted for everything very easily. I have been able to do so since--publicly--and that is harming my reputation, because people remember the accusation but not always the explanation. And each time I've been asked to remember--on the spot and in public--something new and previously unquestioned.
If anyone felt I was "inaccessible" in some way when they started this, I've now been in the room with our board officers and DONE executives at two very long public meetings, and not once has any of them pulled me aside personally and said: "hey Mark, what about this?" Instead board officers funnel questions through DONE, who apparently weren't paying attention much when I ran the most public and open treasury in ASNC's history. By that I mean that all records were posted online, usually before meetings. As a result, not only board members, but stakeholders could examine lots of handouts and reports (twice as much paper as the treasurer before me, or after me) at meetings. By the way, that explains some of the large copy expenses on the P-card. I even periodic e-mail updates to the board when DONE would change some rule and affect our spending every few months.
So, while I will defend any more "gotcha" attempts, I won't be pulled through this forever, dollar-by-dollar. Enough!
These board members know where to find me, always have, and it's time they stopped generating a hurtful gossip mill on the taxpayer's dollar. Audits are supposed to be conducted objectively and against documented policies, procedures and guidelines. I have shown this has not been the case, and the process itself very poorly handled. By the way, I've heard that it can cost the City as much as $100 just to "audit" a $10 neighborhood council P-card charge. They've had highly paid City employees auditing my free volunteer work for weeks now, and they keep not finding anything real. Their "hunt" has probably cost the city more money in two months than the total amount the ASNC spent last year.
Before closing I would like to provide a response to Knapton's and Benedict's latest volley of misleading accusations regarding last-minute expenditures and records transfers.
1) Last-Minute Expenditures - At our 4/25 board meeting along with other items, 3 funding requests totalling $3200 were submitted by McKenzie for six outreach projects, some of which intended for Lummis Day on June 25th:
1. Advertising Material
2. Banner Design & Generation
3. News Stories
4. Annual Newsletter
5. Trifold Brochures
During discussions over these funding requests during the meeting, I pointed out a concern about having sufficient time to complete these items by Lummis Day and end-of-year June 15 funding freeze, which was just just 1.5 months away. Remember that due to elimination of rollover, we were going to lose any remaining funds as of June 15th. I suggested that Meredith McKenzie's communications and outreach committee start working meetings within two weeks to start on content and layout. One month later at our May 23 board meeting, there was no record of a single working meeting being conducted or any being planned.
At the same time, directly before the May 23 meeting I learned that DONE was no longer going to honor the specially-approved $8,550 in rollover funds promised in writing last year, even though it had been in the last two budgets we sent to them.
I only had time to do a quick analysis before the May 23 board meeting on the impact of losing $8,500. Cursory analysis showed that (allowing for margin of error for DONE's and ASNC's records) it was a prudent idea to assume the worst and we will not have enough to pay all the bills and act accordingly. My plan was to bring back any unused funds since it was doubtful anyone would use them by the deadline anyway.
--I was incorrectly referencing a different occasion. It was, in fact, at the May 23 meeting that I informed her and the board that I would speak to those with uncompleted projects and inquire about unused funds. Any would be returned if the money wasn't in an eminent path of being spent. That was exactly the case for the six outreach projects. I told McKenzie and the board it makes sense to return some of the money since the communications and outreach committee had no plans in place to complete $3200 of work by June 15th (or any substantial outreach material for Lummis Day by June 5--only 1.5 weeks away). I asked them to come back with a proposal on what realistically could be done, and they decided to place ads in the local news media for about $1,400.
For me the next two days were spent analyzing in detail the financial data. The analysis revealed $2000 of funds remaining after paying all expected invoices (including $1500 for the ads). This excess was, mostly due to higher than anticipated return of money that wouldnt be used.
In haste, knowing there was no meeting scheduled nor sufficient time available to schedule one and expect a quorum before forfeiting all leftover monies in just 20 days, I used my authority as treasurer to use up the remainder of the funds to arrive at a close-to-zero balance and give our stakeholders all of the benefit due to them. Therefore, $1918.76 was used mainly for Lummis Day outreach and promotional items to promote ASNC and our positive image of ASNC, including the three purchases of promotional items questioned by Benedict totaling $1468.38.
It should be noted that while researching Lummis Day expenses in past years, I noticed that some of ASNC funds for it were drawn from "Outreach" in its first year--even though it had its own large event budget--so this expenditure is not that unprecedented.
2) Records Transfer - The allegation is worded "Keys, materials, and inventory items not transferred to new Treasurer." This statement is not an allegation or finding since there’s no DONE requirement to transfer keys, “materials” and our inventory items to the Treasurer--nor does it make sense). And what are "materials?" Even though there is no DONE requirement or policy regarding the transfer of records, I still provided them as you will see. In many cases, there was nothing to transfer, or there were no records to transfer that weren't already available from DONE for free if requested. Let's go through each record one-by-one:
- Keys - ASNC does not have a storage container at the current time. We were temporarily storing outreach supplies (canopies, table display material, etc) in a bin purchased for the LAFD’s Northeast LA CERT team. Since this bin was never intended for ASNC’s use, nor under the direct control of ASNC, so distribution of keys to additional board members is not deemed appropriate. ASNC’s material should be stored in a more controlled environment. In 2011 a request was made to the board (that unfortunately was denied) to rent storage space at a local storage facility. I have asked the Treasurer to are re-evaluate this request and hopefully find a permanent storage location for our material, which is mainly outreach supplies that do not meet the City's criteria for requiring to be inventoried. In the meantime any inventoried material which exists will be removed from the CERT storage bin and kept with their custodian. The particular custodian will be responsible for the storage and safe-keeping of these items, and all items required to be tracked are currently being tracked.
- Materials - this I will interpret as follows:
- Outreach supplies - canopies, banners, etc.
- PA system - As soon as I am told where to drop off the outreach supplies I will gladly take them there. I don't believe anyone wants to store all of it at their home.
- Financial Reports - All available financial data is posted on the ASNC website (under Archives), except strangely enough the final year-end report that the board members are looking for is missing. I provided it to all board members and it was referenced in the "Treasurers Report" Item VI.C of the June 25 board meeting minutes: "Mark Legassie handed out the FY2010-2011 End-of-Year Report to the Board and Meeting attendees – shows that we followed our established budget. " Items such as quartery reconciliation reports and original receipts are forwarded each quarter to DONE, so it is more economical to get them from DONE since they wish.
- Raw financial data (invoices, receipts, etc) - submitted to DONE with quarterly reconciliation reports and are readily available for copying if requested. review in their office
- Inventory Items - Only the PA system currently applies -- the other inventory items do not need transfer to the Treasurer at this time. I provided hardcopies of our inventory to all board members back in 2009 and again in 2011. Note: Only items worth more than $1,000 with shelf life of three or more years, computer hardware and office electronics equipment need to be inventoried per the Treasurers Handbook. I updated and provided the final version a few weeks ago, which has been placed on the ASNC website (see pg 36, the very last page of the following report).
In summary, this complete breakdown in internal communication could have been avoided if the board members had just asked for my help to answer questions that arose during their review.