Sunday, June 27, 2010

Contra Costa Grand jury report cites appearance of conflict of interest in First Five

By Rick Radin
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/26/2010 04:02:37 PM PDT
Updated: 06/26/2010 05:43:49 PM PDT

A recent Contra Costa County civil grand jury report criticized First Five Contra Costa for what it said is an appearance of a conflict in interest in awarding contracts, but commissioners say they already comply with a key recommendation.

"A Commissioner who has a financial interest in the awarding of a contract is (now) required to disclose the interest and recuse him or herself from the vote," according to the report. He or she is not required, however, to abstain from discussion or leave the room during the vote, the report said.

"Take a board member who gets $1 (million) or $2 million for his business and he is able to be in on the discussion and then he's there when the vote takes place," said jury foreman Ron Tervelt. "There could be an intimidation factor, the appearance of an ethics violation."

First Five Contra Costa invests Proposition 10 tobacco tax revenues in local health and education programs for expectant parents and children birth to age 5.

Commissioners who may be awarded contracts are required to recuse themselves from discussion and votes on the contracts, said Supervisor Susan Bonilla, of Concord, the board's representative on the commission.

Since March, commissioners have also had to leave the room when these discussions and votes take place, said First Five Executive Director Sean Casey.

Tervelt said First Five may have made the changes because of the questions jurors asked during the investigation.

Casey said commissioners made the changes based on what they learned was going on in other counties during an annual review of conflict of interest issues with county counsel.

The probe was done last fall and the report was released April 28.

The panel asked that Contra Costa's First Five avoid appointing commissioners who would be likely to bid on contracts.

However, First Five's governance structure mandates that service providers fill some commission seats because they have critical expertise, said Sherry Novick, head of the statewide First Five association.

The grand jury also recommended that the commission change auditors periodically to assure an independent assessment of First Five's finances.

The panel undertook the probe because it received complaints about the commission, according to the report.

The complaints included allegations of conflict of interest, misappropriation of funds, manager bias, favoritism and sexual harassment.

The grand jury report found no wrongdoing in these areas.

First Five Contra Costa and the board of supervisors will issue replies to the report in late July or August, Bonilla said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very biased story that left out most of the findings and claimed the GJ cleared the Commission of wrongdoing in the personnel matters when it in fact did not.

Here are two articles worth a read: