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Audit: Spectrum allegedly received pay for services without approval

February 21, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

El Centro-based public relations and advertising firm Spectrum received payments during a three-month period in 1999 that were allegedly not approved by the county Board of Supervisors.

According to a recently completed audit of the County Administrative Office for July 1, 1998, through June 30, 1999, the payments were made under a verbal agreement by then-County Administrative Officer Richard Inman and Spectrum owner Rob Zimmer.

According to the audit, the verbal agreement merely reflected the increased work being performed by Spectrum for the county in addition to anticipating a contract due to start on July 1, 1999. The new contract, which went out to bid and is still in place, is for a $3,000 monthly retainer while the previous contract called for a $900 monthly retainer. The retainer covers certain services and the contract does not preclude Spectrum from billing additional hours if needed.

It's those additional billable hours that Spectrum claims to have worked that are at the heart of the verbal agreement to pay the higher amount, according to Zimmer.


Zimmer said the payments were the direct result of his company auditing itself and concluding numerous hours being worked for the county were not being billed. He said conversations with Inman over the extent of the billable hours led to the higher payments.

"(Inman) should have done something more official about it," Zimmer said, adding he would still like to be compensated for the hours worked but not billed. "How do you come back so late?"

Inman said he does not remember any verbal agreement and he didn't do anything verbally.

When asked why he had not gone to the Board of Supervisors to get approval for the increased payments, he said, "I can't imagine that I didn't. I'm certainly confident there were no improprieties."

The higher payments were pointed out in the audit and discussed in a supervisors committee meeting last week.

"To my understanding, there's only a handful of people who know about this," said Supervisor Wally Leimgruber, who sits on the committee. "I'm concerned with who gave the controller the authority to write those checks."

County Auditor/Controller Douglas Newland says Inman gave him the authority.

"He signed the claims forms," Newland said.

Ideally, all contractual payments should be compared to what's called for in the contract, but that doesn't always happen, Newland said.

The audit states: "During fiscal year 1998-99, the CAO should have paid monthly retainer fees of $900 to Spectrum. However, a $3,000 retainer was paid for April, May and June. No explanation was provided as to the increase in the retainer fee for these months."

The audit further states the county should determine if all retainer fees have been properly credited by Spectrum.

At Tuesday's supervisors meeting, concerns about the payments and arrangement were expressed.

"We don't want this to happen again," said Supervisor Hank Kuiper.

Supervisor Joe Maruca called the action to not obtain board approval "offensive."

Supervisors Chairman Tony Tirado said he was unaware the payments were made. After the meeting, Tirado said he had become aware of the payments just recently.

"The bottom line is people made payments arbitrarily without coming to the board," he said.

At the time, only Tirado and Leimgruber were on the board. Other members included Bill Cole from District 2, Dean Shores from District 3 and Tom Veysey from District 4.

Cole said he'd heard about the audit finding and that he was a driving force behind the audit because of the change in the county's top executive.

Shores said he remembers the issue of payments to Spectrum, but not in detail.

In the end, the Board of Supervisors voted to accept and approve the audit report.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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