San Mateo’s Community Development Department will be the subject of an outside audit following several ‘gaffes’ it has had in the past year, the City Council decided last night in a special study session.
It was not a unanimous decision, however, as councilmen Jack Matthews and Brandt Grotte said “now” is not the time for an audit.
Although Mayor David Lim expressed support for an audit going into last night’s study session, he opened the meeting by saying his support had waned considering all the staff that have recently departed the department and the just announced retirement of Lisa Grote, who has directed the department the past three years.
Considering the pending retirement of the CDD’s director and two planners that recently resigned, Lim said an audit may be better suited down the road after the city replaces at least the director.
But Matthews and Grotte praised the steps already taken by City Manager Susan Loftus to develop a policies and procedures manual for each division in the department, which includes the city’s Building, Code Enforcement, Economic Development, Neighborhood Improvement and Housing and Planning divisions.
The major gaffe the council referred to was the approval of building permits for the controversial 7-Eleven on San Mateo Drive. The council ruled after the permits were issued that they were done so in error and the city will now face 7-Eleven and the property’s owner in court. Attorneys for both have said they will seek at least $8 million in damages.
Deputy Mayor Robert Ross was the most vocal in his support for an independent audit of the department last night.
Ross said it was more an issue of the city’s policies and procedures and whether they are followed rather than the actual departing employees and their impact on the department.
An audit could help the city decrease its liabilities in the future.
“I look at this as how can we get sued and how can we prevent it,” Ross said.
In the public hearing, both Planning Commissioner Rick Bonilla and Public Works Commissioner Anna Kuhre urged the council to move forward with the audit as did Christine Stiles, who has been a vocal opponent of the city’s approval of the 7-Eleven.
After hearing from the public, Lim said the city should go forward with an audit.
Next, the city will decide which firm it wants to conduct the audit out of three finalists the council agreed on last night.
The proposed cost to conduct the audit ranges from $40,000 to $120,000, according to a staff report.
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