BHSI debacle: Commissioners are responsible

So now we know who is to blame for Clovis taxpayers losing $1.8 million in the Beauty, Health and Science Innovations venture — pretty much every city government leader at the time who had input into the decision.

But the ultimate responsibility for this fiasco are the elected representatives who voted to approve the project. It’s worth noting the final vote was 5-0, and three city commissioners didn’t show up for the seven-minute meeting.

An investigative report released Nov. 21 clearly shows city officials put little effort into vetting the BHSI project. It also casts serious doubt on whether any economic development projects funded by taxpayers receive due diligence.

The most glaring hole in the process: We don’t seem to know who is responsible for checking out those who apply for funding.

The report, prepared by an Amarillo law firm, tells us:

• The Economic Development Tax Advisory Board is responsible for investigating and performing due diligence, per a city ordinance.

• EDTAB does not fulfill its obligations because of “unwritten economic development policies, procedures, and customs.”

• Clovis Industrial Development Corp. regularly handles due-diligence activities, but has no official responsibility and no authority to approve projects.

• City commissioners were never told of financial concerns related to BHSI owner and President Brian Sperber prior to approving a multi- million-dollar incentive package for the company to locate in Clovis.

“Had CIDC, EDTAB and the city performed their legal, contractual, and assumed duties and obligations, the chance of loss of public funds would have been greatly decreased,” the report concludes.

“Importantly, there is no way to rank blame in this matter through some type of hierarchy. Had any one person or entity stood up and demanded the rules that were in place at all times during this process be followed and due diligence be finished before recommendations were made and acted upon, the result might have been different.”

In other words, nobody was taking proper care of our tax money.

For those who have been around here long enough, you know we’ve seen this movie before.

It was in 1997 the city of Clovis learned it had lost $4 million in a questionable investment approved by a single city official.

Back then the city finance director had sole authority to make investments. The only thing close to oversight was a three-member investment committee that included the finance director, but which seldom met.

There was quite a public outcry after the 1997 disaster, just as there is today. Public officials then and now agreed changes needed to be made to repair lax oversight of public funds.

They thought they fixed the system that allowed the 1997 problem to empty the vault. Now we are told they’re working to make sure BHSI never happens again.

That’s good to know, but until we know what that means, we should all remain skeptical.

The most important change must be in the attitude of our public officials who pass out our money without thinking or asking hard questions, as though Clovis citizens have an endless supply of taxable income.

Our eight 2011 city commissioners — seven of them are still commissioners today — are ultimately responsible for losing nearly $2 million to BHSI. They approved the deal.

No matter who else may have weighed in, or whether information was withheld or not shared fully, or who failed to perform due diligence in advance of a vote, it was our elected officials who voted to approve the agreement.

Therefore, the blame rests with them. They must fix this broken system before handing out another dollar. If a checklist shows a process step has not been completed, do not allow a vote.

Our elected leaders must act as though every tax dollar they vote to spend will come from their pockets alone.

They should not have to be reminded again.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis Media Inc. editorial board, which includes Publisher Ray Sullivan and Editor David Stevens.