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Our Opinion: Good to see action

October 10, 2001

It has been a couple of years since the county found itself in a serious predicament — one that left it unable to seek state grants for housing programs and economic development.

The predicament was caused by the misuse or misspending of grants from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The grants were managed by the county's Valley of Imperial Development Alliance and the problem was discovered in the housing side of that department.

On Sept. 17, the former manager of the VIDA housing program — Clark Koerner of Holtville — pleaded guilty to two counts of misusing $70,000 to $120,000 in grant money. His pleading came after a lengthy investigation by the FBI. We are pleased that after so long a time there is some resolution to the controversy, although we have heard the case may not be over.

This was one of those cases where it was difficult to be patient. It appeared a crime or crimes had been committed, but it seemed no one was going to have to pay a price. If that had been the case, it would have been unfortunate because it would have sent the wrong message. Now the message is clear. If you violate the public trust and break the law, there is a good chance you will get caught.

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The controversy caused by the misspending of funds kept the county from receiving money from the DHCD for more than a year, forced the county to rethink the way it handles grants, cost the county about $1 million and shook up the administration.

It was a controversy that left the county unable to live up to a promise it had made to help cover costs associated with the building of a cheese plant in the Valley. We are fortunate we didn't lose the cheese plant project as a result.

The county has recovered and moved on to other issues. However, what occurred in VIDA has not been forgotten. We are confident the county has put into place precautions to guard against not only criminal activity but simple mistakes. We are sure there are more sets of eyes following money trails. We are sure management is more hands-on. We are sure our grants are being safeguarded.

Our county leaders learned a hard lesson — unfortunately, it was lesson learned at the expense of the people of the Imperial Valley. Now the people who hurt the county are starting to pay.

Good.

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