Orange County’s toll road agencies will audit some, but not all, of its consultant contracts

by in News

Orange County’s toll road agencies announced Thursday, April 11, an independent company has been hired to audit a contract with a public relations firm, after some board members questioned the costs.

The audit of the Venture Strategic contract by Irvine-based Hall & Company began last week and will be done in a month or so, Transportation Corridor Agencies CFO Amy Potter said. The TCA oversees the county’s 241, 261, 133 and 73 toll roads; it has two boards of directors that share a small staff.

But the audit – which some board members were not made aware of until the meeting  – wasn’t enough to quell concerns from San Clemente representatives who called for suspending all TCA contracts while they are audited by a third party. But the two boards vetoed on Thursday pursuing any additional audits.

“We’re not trying to be adversarial,” said board member Dan Bane, also a San Clemente City Council member. “Somebody needs to be asking the hard questions.”

The Los Angeles Times had an article last month on the billing practices of the agencies’ consultants, including Venture Strategic charging the TCA $175 an hour for reading news articles.

“You’re blowing it out of proportion,” TCA’s CEO Mike Kramen said of the article. Kramen said the firm’s responsibilities go beyond reading news articles and include such work as dealing with reporters and developing messaging strategies.

The contract between TCA and Venture Strategic expires June 30.

“We were pleased to design and implement an unprecedented communication and outreach effort that has brought TCA to this point,” the firm said in a statement. “We were pleased that TCA’s routine internal audit concluded a 99.9 percent billing accuracy rate and the under billing of approximately $5,000. This demonstrates the thoroughness of our internal accounting control.”

Some TCA directors questioned San Clemente’s motivations in calling for additional audits. City officials have long opposed projects the TCA is considering to connect the 241 toll road to the 5 freeway if doing so means the toll road would pass through the city.

Scott Voigts, the board representative from Lake Forest, said the audit could be helpful for the agencies.

“This external audit is needed and will bring back a bit of clarity and trust in the public,” he said.

The TCA boards also voted on Thursday to oppose a bill proposed in the state Legislature that would block the agency from taking on new major projects after 2020.