Andre de Bortnowsky
July 14, 2012 5:00 PM
Brooke Edwards Staggs, City Editor
VICTORVILLE • City Attorney Andre de Bortnowsky is expressing his frustration at the San Bernardino County Grand Jury’s recent report on Victorville, stating he believes it did a “disservice” to residents and city leaders.
De Bortnowsky has served as city attorney for Victorville since November 2007, taking the post as the city was in the midst of making many of the deals questioned in the grand jury’s June 29 report. He’s also served as counsel for the regional Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, in charge of redeveloping Southern California Logistics Airport, since 1991.
Q: What is your reaction to the overall findings in the grand jury report?
A: …First, given that this process has been ongoing for three years, I am disappointed that it appears that the 2011-12 grand jury itself did not take an active role in the investigation, but instead delegated the investigation to a third party consulting firm, Harvey Rose & Associates (“Harvey Rose”). What is of critical importance is that Harvey Rose is neither a certified public accountant firm nor a law firm, but they make numerous assertions as to the application and implications of both law and accounting practices, many of which are clearly erroneous, and more of which are highly questionable.
Second, I am disappointed in the process. … The due process typically afforded by the U.S. Constitution seems to be lacking. While the city does have the opportunity to respond (which it will be doing in detail) the process would lead one to think that a court had held a trial and a ruling had been issued. The grand jury process is not a typical judicial process and must be understood as such.
Third, I am disappointed that after three years, the grand jury report seems to focus on transactions which have been thoroughly vetted, both by your newspaper and by various audit reports that have been undertaken over the years relating to the city’s operations. Essentially, there is nothing new contained in the findings, and most of the issues addressed in the report were addressed long before Harvey Rose got involved. …
Q: Were there any portions of the report that surprised you?
A: I was extremely surprised that throughout the report, Harvey Rose makes several interpretations of law and the applicability of law to the facts that occurred. While they make statements such as “this may have been a violation of law” … they fail to cite any specific authority. This borders on practicing law and yet Harvey Rose is not a legal firm nor does it have attorneys on staff. Given that many of the legal assertions they make are clearly wrong, this is a serious issue.
Q: Do you have any regrets over any of the issues raised in the report? Any past decisions or advice to the city you’d change if you could?
A: I have no regrets as to my role in connection with the issues raised in the report. There is no illegal activity on behalf of the city. The city was fully informed in connection with all of its decisions. All of the major decisions were fully agendized, briefed by staff, discussed in public and voted on by the City Council — often by unanimous vote. …my role is not to make decisions, or render advice, in areas of economics. I am not a judge or an auditor.
Q: You were the city’s attorney when many of these risky projects and controversial contracts were launched. How do you explain your handling of these issues at the time?
A: In order to evaluate the projects, one must view the projects at the time they were presented and understand the associated risks. This is another disappointment with respect to the report. It makes no mention of the global economic recession that impacted most of these projects. These projects were undertaken with the goal of promoting jobs and helping bolster the economy of the Victor Valley. Had the recession not occurred, many of these projects would have come into fruition and been extremely beneficial.
The report fails to note the significant successes achieved by the City Council with respect to projects undertaken and completed immediately prior to the transactions reviewed before the recession changed the economic landscape. As you are aware, the City Council pursued a policy of job creation and economic development and consistent with that was successful in causing the development of several large-scale projects in the Victor Valley. …
You ask how I “explain my handling of these issues at the time?” I would counter with the question: “What about those contracts was found to be illegal?” It seems to me that the complaints about the “risky projects and controversial contracts,” as you put it, focus on the fact that they did not achieve the hoped-for economic results. As I mentioned, I am not an economist but I think we are all aware that we are in the worse economic times since the Great Depression. Given that fact, should anyone be surprised that the expected economic benefits in some (but clearly not all) of the projects were not achieved? …
Q: Do you feel there’s anything you can do differently in the future to help safeguard Victorville from repeating some of the apparent mistakes raised by the grand jury?
A: …My response is that to the extent that the grand jury report focuses on the legal side of things, I strongly disagree with its conclusions and insinuations, which I found to be devoid of even a basic understanding of the law which pertains to municipal affairs. I believe that the advice provided by my firm has been prudent, timely and legally correct. I believe that your question actually has its origins in the belief, which Harvey Rose seemed to share, that my role includes admonishing the Council as to the economic terms of agreements. I can only repeat, yet again, that this is not the role of a city attorney. Cities hire financial advisors for this kind of advice, not lawyers.
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