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Ex-San Bernardino city manager denies budget irregularities

More photos: California cities in bankruptcy

Huntington Beach City Manager Fred Wilson stood by his tenure at the city of San Bernardino following allegations that, for more than a decade, administrators there presented falsified records to hide budget problems.

"I think the allegations are really baseless, and I'm confident that my record will stand," he said.

Wilson worked for San Bernardino for 21 years, 12 as city manager. He left in 2008 to take the top administrative post in Huntington Beach.

PHOTOS: California cities in bankruptcyWilson

The San Bernardino City Council voted last week to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, but this week delayed declaring a fiscal emergency

Interim City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller told the council Monday that the city had been contacted by a "host of creditors" and had its credit cards canceled after the council voted last Tuesday to authorize moving toward bankruptcy.

San Bernardino's finances reached a critical point as it continued to bring in less revenue due to the downturn of the economy while the cost of programs and services outweighed what it brought in, Travis-Miller said.

Although Wilson left the San Bernardino city manager position four years ago, he was dragged into the city's current financial drama after City Atty. James Penman said that for the last 16 years, top administrators have been presenting inaccurate budgets to the mayor and council.

Penman said that in 13 of those 16 years, the documents were altered to show that city coffers were not empty.

"We have now learned that for 13 of the last 16 years, the documents presented to the mayor and council were falsified; that for 13 of the last 16 years, the documents showed that the city was in the black when in 13 of those 16 years, the city was actually in the red," Penman said during the meeting.

"The mayor and council were not given the accurate documents," he added.

Wilson said he couldn't speak to those allegations, nor to what Penman was referring to during the meeting. He cited a Los Angeles Times article that references Travis-Miller saying the budget was presented as balanced the last two years when, in reality, it was not. However, Wilson left the city four years ago.

"When I was there, every budget was balanced, and more important, it was audited with no issues," he said.

Penman, who has been San Bernardino's city attorney for the last 25 years, did not provide evidence showing how those documents were allegedly falsified. 

Wilson said that during his tenure, Penman never shared any concerns about the possibility of budget documents being fabricated.

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-- Mona Shadia, Huntington Beach Independent

Photos: San Bernardino City Hall. Credit: Getty Pictures; Right: Fred Wilson. Credit: Courtesy of the city of Huntington Beach

 
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