Court Victory for Financial Transparency

You may recall that since 2016 we have been asking the City of Oxnard to produce monthly financial reports, and file them with the City Council, as required by Government Code Section 41004, a statute that has been on the books since 1949.

Thanks to a recent court ruling, we have good news!

We are not the first to make the request. Others have asked years before.

In response to our request, the City’s then-Chief Financial Officer Jim Throop pushed back, stating that he couldn’t prepare financial statements with the City’s existing accounting software ...

... even though the City of Oxnard produced financial reports with that software back in 1999 and we were able to provide current financial reports produced by the City of Thousand Oaks, which uses the very same accounting software!

Not seeing any real progress, we made a more formal written demand in May 2018. After receiving no response – not even an acknowledgement – we filed a lawsuit in July 2018 to compel the City to follow the law.

We placed our lawsuit on hold as long as we could, hoping that with the pending litigation that the City would eventually get its act together. Since then, however, Oxnard City Hall has cycled through four different CFOs and spent well over $10 million so far to install a new accounting system – and it still wouldn’t comply with the law.

To the City’s credit, it did bring online a financial reporting tool that enables residents to see some details of the City’s finances.

But raw data is of limited value without a monthly report that discusses and analyzes variances in the City’s finances.

Without a managerial report prepared by the folks running the day-to-day operations at City Hall, the Council and the public are left to guess what happened and why.

And because no monthly report is placed on an official City Council agenda, the council can ignore public inquiries about the City’s finances and claim that the Brown Act won’t allow the council to have an in-depth discussion at a council meeting … because the matter has not been placed on the agenda.

Of course, the council could on its own require that its finances be placed on the agenda … but it doesn’t want to engage in difficult discussions or be held responsible for exercising oversight over city finances.

After being enormously patient for five years, we concluded that it was never the City’s intention to follow the law, so we instructed our legal counsel to take this matter before a judge.

Fortunately, last month the court agreed with us and ordered the City to comply with the law … by creating monthly reports AND placing them on council agendas for public discussion.

Our hope is that the City will soon provide the public with the legally required monthly financial reports … but we would not be surprised if the City Council appeals the decision because it wants neither transparency nor accountability.

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