Notes from Home: Certain Errors

Trudy Wischemann

Two weeks ago this paper published a letter from Lindsay’s outgoing mayor, Pam Kimball. She wrote it “to address certain errors” in the Nov. 4 article reporting Lindsay’s $3.7 million repayment to the state for the city’s abuse of state housing funds. In her letter, I find certain errors that I’d just love to let go but can’t.

The Nov. 4 article revisited some of the city’s problems administering state housing funds that were discovered at the beginning of the last decade. Ms. Kimball was pained by the reminder and the naming of some of the loan recipients. This was “a big disservice to all involved,” she wrote, and “hurt real people… who did not intentionally do anything wrong, whose acts were in no way criminal, and whose loans have not taken money away from anyone else in the way stated by the paper.”

Naming names is always problematic for a newspaper. Sometimes it’s necessary, however, to get to the truth underlying the facts. In this case, the names revealed (eventually) that these loans were given because of personal relationships with those administering the loans, in defiance of the qualifications required. Nameless are the city administrators who stacked and approved those loans. Also nameless are all the qualified people who were not able to get loans, as well as the sellers with qualified properties who lost a sale. Nameless are all the residents who must repay the state for the next 30 years, who have not done anything wrong except live here.

Ten years ago, about this time of year, the problem of misused state housing funds was discovered by two women realtors. They were trying to find mortgage assistance for their low-income clients after the housing crash, when prices had dropped low enough for ordinary people to again try to buy a home, the kind of homes those loans were meant to procure: rehabs, entry-level, existing construction, not new. When these women went to the city to inquire, they were told the funds were used up.

When it was discovered that those who received the loans (1) had loans from more than one of the three loan funds, sometimes all three (i.e., had been “stacked”); (2) were largely employees of the city and/or their friends and family who did not meet the income or other loan qualifications; (3) that in several instances the loans were used to purchase new homes—brand new homes built by (4) developer-friends of the city administrators, just a few months after discovering that (5) those city administrators were some of the highest-paid public employees in Tulare County, getting bigger salaries and benefits than their equivalent positions in Visalia and beyond—well, let’s just say the lid blew off. I remember it well. I was there. So was Pam.

The rest of her letter is an apology, but not to the community she thought she was serving. It’s an apology, a scant apology—an excuse, in fact—for the succession of incompetent, crafty, self-serving administrations which she helped bring into being and supposedly oversaw. The errors that have been committed by them may not have been illegal, but they’re certainly immoral as hell.

To me, the most distressing part of the Nov. 4 article was the end. The new city manager, Joe Tanner, “is not looking backward,” it said. “’I don’t play the blame game or point fingers,’” said Tanner. “‘I just want to move the organization forward… we are going to do things the right way from here.’”

I admire the sentiment and encourage the goal. I do wish, however, that somehow those responsible for incurring these debts could be held accountable. Perhaps the new city council will find a way to do both.

Trudy Wischemann is one of many battle-scarred Lindsay residents who have tried to keep the city on track over the years. You can send her your thoughts on Lindsay’s albatrosses c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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