In It for the Pay Check

PERSPECTIVE - I listened to a presentation on Saturday at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition.
One of the featured guests was Inspector General of the city Fernando Campos.  He works for the Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.
Mr. Campos shared some interesting information on the state of fee and fine collections in our city. Of $443 million in uncollected, non-tax accounts, only $79 million is deemed collectible, about 18%.  Furthermore, two-thirds (67%) of the gross amount due is over a year old.
These numbers aren’t just bad for the City, they would be unacceptable in any organization.
What is really sad is that this is not a new development.  You can find audits highly critical of the city’s collection process going back to the 1990′s. 
The Office of Finance was created in 2000 to deal with the problem.  Calls for centralization of systems and collection activities were made.  On the surface, that’s a sensible suggestion, but when you consider 82% of the accounts receivable balance is comprised of unpaid ambulance fees and parking fines as of today, there was probably a high degree of centralization ten years ago.  You would think, then, with that degree of concentration, a path to centralization was already open for exploitation.
It begs the question: what has the Office of Finance been doing the past twelve years to improve collections?
More specifically, what has Finance Director Antoinette Christovale been doing? 
Appointed by former mayor Richard Riordan in 2000, she has been in charge of collections since the formation of the Office of Finance.
Maybe she has been working diligently; maybe she has been playing solitaire on her computer all of those years. I don’t know.
Regardless, if only 18% of the receivables are collectible and most are over a year old, I would like to see how she explains it in her resume and cover letter.
If she has given it her best shot, then it is time to replace her if that is all she can achieve.   At some point, the mayor and council have to recognize that twelve years is enough. It was probably time to replace her five years ago.
Let’s go one step further and give her the benefit of the doubt.  Say she not only gave it her best shot, but the mayor and council did not support her efforts.
There comes a point when a professional has to reflect on his/her career. If your objectives are unachievable because of insurmountable obstacles erected by an intransigent bureaucracy, you can either leave … or succumb to the culture.  
If it is the latter, you become part of the problem. You are then in it for the pay check and little else.
(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as Treasurer for the Neighborhood Council Valley Village.  He blogs at Village to Village, contributes to CityWatch and can be reached at: –cw
Vol 10 Issue 89
Pub: Nov 6, 2012