At the Lake: Ted Long at center of Clean Tahoe controversy
November 14, 2007
A police investigation into the nonprofit Clean Tahoe Program and the financial practices of its former program director, Tim Stockton, has concluded without the filing of criminal charges.
But the investigation has raised questions about South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Ted Long, who was president of the Clean Tahoe board at the time. Some say Long should have more stringently cared for the program’s finances. The Clean Tahoe Program is funded by public money.
Long permitted Stockton on several occasions to sign Long’s name to Clean Tahoe checks, according to the investigation and Long’s statements to the Tribune. Long and fellow board member Michael Phillips were authorized to sign Clean Tahoe checks, but Stockton was not, according to the report.
“Mr. Long allowed somebody to sign his name. He had no authorization to do that,” said South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Bill Crawford, who has read the police department’s report.
“Mr. Long did not exercise his responsibility in protecting the public’s interest. All of the monies in question were monies collected from the ratepayers,” Crawford said Thursday.
Long said he did nothing wrong.
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“The suggestion that I did not properly oversee the funds of Clean Tahoe is a ‘red hearing’ (herring) created by those that have things to hide,” Long said in an e-mail. “Every transaction was reviewed carefully for accuracy, verified and followed up to be accurate. The Clean Tahoe attorneys, the police department and the district attorney all concluded that no funds that I authorizes were in any way misused.”
Both Long and Stockton called the investigation politically motivated.
Long said Stockton had ideas for expanding the Clean Tahoe Program – some that could potentially save the city money – and some board members weren’t comfortable with that.
Stockton said the report was being used by Long’s political foes to attack Long.
“I do think they’re going after Ted,” said Stockton, who now is working in San Diego.
“The politics are really so juvenile and so vicious up there,” Stockton said Friday. “It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys.”
From August 2005 until his resignation in September 2006, Stockton directed the Clean Tahoe Program, which provides litter pickup and other trash-related services for city and county residents. The police report details 11 incidents of possible financial irregularities in 2005 and 2006 that raised concerns among Clean Tahoe board members.
The police department forwarded a report on its findings to the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office, which declined to file charges.
Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said an “insufficient basis” was found to bring criminal charges associated with the investigation. But Uthe asked the county grand jury to take a look at Clean Tahoe’s fiscal and management practices.
“They had some legitimate questions,” Stockton said of the investigation. “All those questions had answers.”
In a phone interview Friday, Stockton said he initially was hesitant to sign Long’s name to checks. But when a signature was needed – for example, with payday coming up – and no one was available to sign the checks, Stockton said he consulted with Long before signing his name.
The practice was really not different than using a rubber stamp with an authorized signature, as many businesses do, Stockton said.
Long told the Tribune that having Stockton sign his name to checks was not forgery because he authorized it. Long said he didn’t give Stockton a blanket authorization to sign checks; rather, each check was considered individually. Long said the issue came up when he was out of town or otherwise not available to personally sign the checks.
“It was never a blanket thing,” Long said Thursday. “He always cleared it (with me), as far as I’m aware.”
When investigators showed Stockton a series of checks with Long’s signature on them, he identified 14 on which he had signed Long’s name, and four others that he had possibly signed with Long’s signature.
When Long was shown a series of Clean Tahoe checks, Long identified 19 that did not have his correct signature on them; six others may not have had the correct signature, according to the report.
Aside from the issue of Long’s signature, Phillips said Long and Stockton violated Clean Tahoe’s policy, which has always called for two signatures on each check, not just one. The actions of Long and Stockton gave the program a “black eye,” Phillips said.
“There were policies and procedures in place, and they weren’t being followed,” Phillips said.
Phillips, who is the current Clean Tahoe Program board president, described the program’s current financial management as “stellar.”
Long told the Tribune he was not aware of a two-signature policy.
Stockton said two board members gave permission to the bank to change requirements on Clean Tahoe checks from two signatures to one. Phillips said the board never approved such a change.
And the accusations fly both ways.
Long and Stockton said three Clean Tahoe board members appear to have violated the state’s open meeting law by allegedly getting together to discuss a possible investigation of Stockton.
Phillips said the three board members never met outside a meeting for which the public was properly notified.