Del Mar's recently fired chief lifeguard stands by his decision to waive permit fee because he believed it benefited the city over the long run. The practice ultimately cost him his job but, he says, was no secret to his superiors.
Pat Vergne spoke exclusively with NBC 7 Thursday, the day after his termination from an investigation which revealed mismanagement of approximately $220,000 in city funds.
Vergne and two community services colleagues are no longer employed by the City of Del Mar as a result of two investigations that spanned four months.
Under Vergne, the city's community service department waived or reduced permit fees for city-owned spaces totaling more than $150,000.
"Over a three year period, we had 95 situations in which those fees were waived for various reasons," Mayor Terry Sinnott told NBC 7 Wednesday.
Also, investigations found one employee was paid approximately $43,000 in falsely reported over time.
Another city employee was hired as an independent contractor, paid $23,000 and used a city credit card to buy personal items including a wet suit.
"It all amounts up to around $200,000--that is money the tax payers assume are going to be used properly and were not," Sinnott said.
"There's two sides to every story," Vergne said Thursday.
Vergne said there was a thought process behind waiving or discounting permit fees to Powerhouse Community Center, something he started doing 17 years ago when it was built.
"My instructions at the time were, 'Build it as a community center, get the community, the outside community together because we're going to be building a lifeguard tower,'" Vergne said.
He said by helping local non-profits and local schools with a meeting center, the city benefited from millions of dollars in donations for their main lifeguard tower which opened in 2012.
"Sometimes if it was a memorial service or someone came in that couldn't necessarily afford the entire rate, we would discount it," he said. "Again, with the intent that the building was constantly being used."
Vergne said he stands by his decisions, but also says it wasn’t a secret.
"The paperwork was submitted to City Hall, so it wasn't like there were two sets of books," he said. "There were the applications, the receipts for the billing, the receipts for the deposits and those were submitted to finance and City Hall."
Vergne said he was never approached to manage the process differently.
"If that had been the case we would've managed it differently," he said.
Vergne is a popular figure on Del Mar beaches and was seen as a friend and a cheerleader for the community.
He started working for the City of Del Mar more than 35 years ago.
By fostering a “friendly community,” Vergne believes the city of Del Mar benefited in the long run.
He said he's felt the support of the community through this process.
"Everywhere I walk, people stop me, encourage me to keep my chin up so to speak," he said. "Basically the community has come out non-stop with support."