A city audit of the nonprofit group that was supposed to organize and oversee a year-long celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition found no fraud, but plenty of incompetence, noncompliance to its agreement with the city, and a lack of oversight by the city.
In March, the group called Balboa Park Celebration Inc. disbanded after failing to raise any significant contributions and charges that it squandered gobs of taxpayer funds mostly on salaries to executives and consultants.
The audit found BPCI received total funding of $3 million over the three years it existed, including some $1.6 million provided by city funding sources. The report said it spent $2.84 million, and returned about $258,000 of funds to the city.
The top paid vendors hired by BPCI and their payments were Loma Media, $519,000; Autonomy LLC, $473,000; and Utopia Entertainment, $111,000.
Two-thirds of BPCI’s expenditures were made to consultants and executives, the audit found.
BPCI’s four CEOs were paid a total of about $457,000. The highest paid and longest serving was Mike McDowell, who received about $182,000 for his 13-month stint.
The last CEO, Julie Dubick, a former chief of staff to then Mayor Jerry Sanders, served for 10 months and received total pay of $136,500, the audit said.
Gerry Braun, another former Sanders staffer and former columnist with San Diego Union-Tribune, served mainly as BPCI’s external communications director and earned a monthly stipend of $8,000. Braun took over briefly as interim CEO in March 2013 and was paid $15,000 monthly. Toward the end of BPCI’s existence, Braun took the title of transition director, for which he was paid $13,000 monthly; in all he was paid $144,000, the audit report said.
The audit report cast blame on a variety of external factors that helped doom BPCI’s chances of building any kind of momentum to engage the community.
While the grand vision of BPCI was a series of big scale events that would attract an estimated 600,000 hotel room nights from visitors, BPCI’s leadership “was slow to foresee and adjust to a shrinking fundraising climate,” the audit said.
The group’s attempts at fundraising were hampered not only by a lack of leadership but turmoil surrounding former Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned during a sexual harassment scandal in August 2013. Filner was blamed in the report for interfering with certain decisions by the group and hampering the attraction of corporate sponsors.
In the end, BPCI obtained a single sponsor, SDG&E, for $100,000.
According to the report, BPCI did approach the city’s biggest and wealthiest corporation for help, but a meeting held with Qualcomm executives found them “apprehensive about committing to the $20 million request.”
No mention in the audit was made of BPCI’s co-chairs, Ben and Nicki Clay, longtime government lobbyists who Sanders selected to head up BPCI.