A preliminary financial review conducted by the Echo Park neighborhood council has found signs of “improper allocation of funds,” poor record keeping and other “irregularities” under the watch of previous council president Jose Sigala. The review, conducted by a committee of current board members, was released at a meeting Tuesday night as the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council struggles to regain access to its funds, which were frozen by the city last fall after it failed provide the necessary documents to show how funds were approved and spent.
The report, which was conducted under newly elected council President Ari Bessendorf, cites a long list of problems, from missing meeting minutes and original receipts to questions about a transfer of money to a fund controlled by the office of Councilman Eric Garcetti. “The board in the past was not acting within the guidelines of the [neighborhood council] ordinance,” said Jay Handal, who has been assigned to mentor the Echo Park council by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the city agency that oversees neighborhood councils.
Lisa-Baca Sigala, a former council member and wife of former council President Jose Sigala, who is running in the Council District 13 election, disputed the findings of the report. “What was presented by Ari Bessendorf tonight is HIS personal “witch hunt” against Jose Sigala that is based on innuendo using terms like “irregularities” without input or approval” of the members of the committee that worked on the financial review, she said in an email. “There are no missing GEPENC funds or expenditures or FUNDING IRREGULARITIES.”
Bessendorf, who won last’s fall election by only two votes, said the release of the review, which is referred to officially as a “reconciliation report,” was “a necessary step to continue moving forward in the right direction. There will a two week public comment period once the documents are available on CD.”
The Echo Park council will gather that public comment before it issues a final report to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for further review. It’s then up to the department to examine the review and decide if any of the issues are significant enough to be referred to the City Attorney, according to Handal.
Meanwhile, it’s note clear when Echo Park council’s funds will be unfrozen. Many community groups and institutions are awaiting funds that had been approved but remain tangled up in the financial review. It might take 30 to 60 days for the funds to be released back to the council once the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment receives the final version of the review, Handal said.