Letter: Parking auditors’ method was ridiculous
Maurice Emmer has correctly criticized the flawed audit of the city’s loss from the parking scam (“Parking audit badly flawed,” Letters to the editor, March 9, The Aspen Times). The accountants, hired by the city manager to cover his mistakes, assert that the loss of $692,000 should be reduced to $230,000 based on a model they developed. In their model, they apparently assume that those who cheated the city would have parked elsewhere or used buses if they could not have scammed the system. Their assertion is absurd for four reasons:
First, the accountants are subordinating felonies. Their assertion is identical to the assertion that you are not guilty of stealing a diamond ring because you would not have done so had the ring been in a safe. To assert, as the accountants did, that the city did not lose money because it failed to act is to cover up incompetence. The accountants are not independent and also apparently not competent.
Second, the calculation ignores the revenue the city lost from those who would have honestly paid to park in the spots used by the felons.
Third, the calculation ignores the money consumers might have spent in Aspen restaurants and stores. We used to live in Aspen. We used to frequent Aspen stores and Aspen restaurants. We now live downvalley, thankfully in Eagle County. We stopped coming to Aspen because parking was difficult. Now we go up maybe twice a year to shop at the Butcher’s Block because it offers something unique. When we do, we go as a team. I drop off Margaret and keep going around the block until she is finished — then we drive back downvalley. Our other shopping is done in Willits, Denver and London. Aspen merchants have lost our business. I am sure we are not alone.
Fourth, modeling is an art, not a science. My doctorate is in econometrics. I have taught the subject at the Yale Business School and the University of California. I have practiced the art since 1966 for the U.S. Treasury, for the first major online economic-forecasting firm, for nonprofits and for consulting firms. My models have passed the critical accuracy test by producing good out-of-sample forecasts. I know from long experience that one can torture data to produce any answer one wants if one is not honest. The individuals who built the model for the city were told to produce a specific answer and found a way to do it. I do not think an independent expert not beholden to any sponsor would have reached such a conclusion. The data were tortured to produce the answer the city manager demanded.
In summary, the city lost almost $700,000 due to its incompetent managers. In addition, city restaurants and merchants lost many times that much in sales. Emmer was correct when he said we will never know the truth unless a truly independent audit is conducted. Instead of following his advice, the city wasted more money.
I am glad I live in Eagle County.
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