January 29, 2011 2:00 PM
VICTORVILLE • Two more city officials will be questioned by the grand jury this week, as the county’s citizen investigative group continues its nearly two-year investigation into Victorville’s finances and government practices.
Former councilwoman JoAnn Almond said the grand jury asked her to go to San Bernardino on Monday for questioning, anticipating she’ll be sworn to secrecy regarding the content of the interview as officials have been in the past.
New Councilwoman Angela Valles will also be speaking with the grand jury this week, with concerns over potential violations of the state’s open meetings laws.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ryan McEachron is calling for a rapid close to the lengthy investigation, with the city anxious to get out from under the cloud it’s cast on Victorville’s reputation.
“The document requests have slowed considerably at this time,” Deputy City Manager Doug Robertson said via e-mail. “We are hopeful that this is a sign that they are nearing completion.”
Every member of the former Victorville City Council and many upper-level city staffers have been pulled in for questioning since the investigation began in April 2009. And New York-based forensic auditor Kessler International has taken up its own office at City Hall, with several Victorville employees dedicating most of their time to responding to the firm’s records requests.
McEachron called for that audit in December 2009, hoping to put to rest persistent claims of hand-shake contracts, verbal agreements and other forms of malfeasance that had plagued the city since he joined the council the year before. He asked the grand jury to oversee the audit, to ensure the results would be viewed as independent and to help the cash-strapped city fund the pricey process.
In May 2010, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved a rare move to fund an extra $195,000 to hire Kessler International. And that summer was the first time the grand jury has ever held over citizen members from a previous year to continue the investigation.
McEachron said he recently asked to meet with the grand jury, to express his concerns at how long the audit was taking and the fact that Kessler’s firm had requested documents related to his original concerns just a few weeks ago.
The mayor said he wasn’t given any specific estimate for when the investigation will wrap up, with the probe having expanded far beyond his original request.
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Brooke Edwards may be reached at (760) 955-5358 or at bedwards@VVDailyPress.com.