By Pete Constant
How many times have you read an article online or in a newspaper that questions whether the San José Police Department holds its officers fully accountable for their actions? To be honest, I’ve lost count.
In 1993, the City of San José opened the office of the Independent Police Auditor (IPA). This newly created position was designed specifically to ensure that police officers were held accountable for their actions and to ensure that the police Internal Affairs Unit did not whitewash investigations of misconduct.
Approximately 4 years ago the San José City Council appointed Barbara Attard to be the IPA for a four year term. Since Attard lived in San Francisco, the city council provided her relocation assistance and a $250,000 executive home loan so that she could live in the community she served. When her term of office ended at the end of 2008 the city council decided to not re-appoint her. Attard continued to make her payments on her executive home loan for 3 months, and then abruptly stopped paying – even though she continued to make her first mortgage payments to her mortgage company. Months later, she informed the City of San José that she could not sell her home so she offered the city a deed to the property in lieu of foreclosure. Of course, there was still the matter of the first mortgage, so the city would have to pay off that loan in order to take possession of the home. Unfortunately, the city council agreed with this, voting to approve the settlement (9-2, with Councilmember Campos and myself voting against).
So she walked away from her obligations, leaving the taxpayers holding the bag – nearly $350,000 in loan forgiveness, and now the residents of San José own a downtown condo that might be worth $240,000 - if you could even sell it in today’s market.
So I ask, where did the concept of accountability go?
Four and a half years ago the city council approved this home loan, even though it appears to fail to meet the spirit or even the letter of the Executive Home Loan Program. After all, the intent of the loan program was to help new executive relocate to San José, an area long known for its high housing prices. But Attard was coming from San Francisco, an area with even higher housing costs.
Can anyone really argue that accepting a job 40 miles or so from your home requires relocation? Many hardworking city employees and taxpayers commute farther than that every day to their jobs.
The Executive Home Loan Program also specifically states that these loans are for the executive’s “principal residence.” While it was well known that Attard maintained her San Francisco residence during her employment, it is less known that Attard maintained her voter registration in San Francisco County and continued to vote in elections there while she was employed as the IPA. Remember, if you move, you are required to re-register to vote when you move to a new residence. Additionally, Attard never filed for a Homeowner’s Property Tax Exemption in Santa Clara County, but did keep the Homeowner’s Property Tax Exemption on file for her San Francisco residence. You can see that to claim this exemption, you must certify, under penalty of perjury, that you occupy your home as your “principal residence”.
So did Attard qualify for an Executive Home Loan to purchase her principal residence? I don’t think so, it’s clear to me she didn’t think it was her principal residence.
So where’s the accountability? Is the city council not responsible for approving this loan? Most of that council is no longer in office, so I guess not. Is Attard responsible for leaving the taxpayers holding the bag? I guess not, since the city attorney has informed the council that we have no other recourse. In fact, the city’s Finance Department doesn’t even think we are able to report the default to the credit reporting agencies.
With the city unable to provide essential services, can we really afford to buy a condo?
I, for one, am not willing to sit by and just let this go. I have asked the city manager to not offer this Executive Home Loan to any new hires until the Council can conduct a full review of the program, and I have asked for an investigation into the facts of the case.
Pete Constant is serving his first term on the San Jose City Council representing District 1 (West San Jose).