POLITICAL INTERFERENCE WITH THE PROBATION DEPARTMENT’S PROCUREMENT OF SERVICES

This is the Executive Summary, Conclusion, Findings and Recommendations only. For the entire report go to:   2016 – 2017 Final Report

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Grand Jury received a complaint that a member of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors interfered with the selection of a vendor to provide chaplaincy services for minors in custody at Alameda County Juvenile

Hall and Camp Sweeney. The complaint alleged that the supervisor prevented the Probation Department from conducting an open search for services needed by the Probation Department, and, instead, insisted that a particular vendor with strong political influence in the county be chosen, thereby usurping the role of a county department head.

The supervisor exceeded her authority … which preclude(s) an individual board member from acting without board concurrence.

After a comprehensive investigation, the Grand Jury found that the supervisor exceeded her authority under Government Code section 25005 and the County Charter section 10, both of which preclude an individual board member from acting without board concurrence. The conduct of the supervisor also impeded the Probation Department’s ability to fulfill its duties under Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the county charter, which together give the Probation Department responsibility to select outside vendors, where needed, to provide services for children who are wards of the Juvenile Court. The Grand Jury also learned that there does not appear to be any vehicle to address this type of issue except to file a complaint with the Grand Jury.

This is not the first time the issue of political interference has come to the Grand Jury’s attention: in its 2014-2015 report, the Grand Jury described unacceptable pressure applied to county departments by the chief of staff of a supervisor in an effort to influence administrative decisions, calling this a “culture of political interference.” [https://www.acgov.org/grandjury/final2014-2015.pdf  – starting at page 19.]

The Grand Jury’s summary conclusions in 2014-2015 are equally applicable to this investigation in 2016-2017: “While the Grand Jury understands that elected officials must represent constituents and, at times, must inquire with administrative staff regarding the status of a project . . . , the degree of interference found within this investigation went well beyond acceptable constituent services.” And, “political interference by elected officials or their agents applying pressure on administrative staff to give preferential treatment to favored constituents damages the effectiveness of government organizations . . . .” That nothing seems to have changed in the two years since the Grand Jury first reported on this issue is disheartening.

CONCLUSION

A county supervisor does not have the authority to dictate orders to department heads. The Grand Jury believes that all county department heads should be free to manage the day-to-day operations of their departments and make choices about delivery of services without political interference from elected officials. While individual supervisors have the right to seek clarification and to obtain information from department heads, they should not be permitted to interfere with department operations. When county department heads are at-will employees appointed by the Board of Supervisors, they are subject to pressure from individual board members to make politically expedient choices rather than to use their own good judgments about what is best for the interest of the citizens of Alameda County.

Many public agencies have rules in place that prohibit political interference. Unfortunately, despite an unambiguous Grand Jury recommendation two years ago, Alameda County does not. The Grand Jury again urges the Board of Supervisors to follow the lead of other government entities by adopting a robust anti-interference policy, and by relinquishing the responsibility for hiring department heads to the county administrator, in order to serve Alameda County more effectively.

FINDINGS

Finding 17-17:

The supervisor exceeded the authority described in Government Code section 25005 and County Charter section 10. Both sections preclude individual board members from acting without concurrence from a majority of board members.

Finding 17-18:

The supervisor’s actions usurped the role of the chief probation officer by impeding procurement of community-based organization services through the competitive RFP process specified by the County of Alameda Uniform Procurement Manual, Chapter 6 – Department Procurement Policies and Procedures.

Finding 17-19:

By insisting on retention of a vendor that was unwilling to provide all the services the Alameda County Probation Department deemed essential, the supervisor impeded the level of religious services provided to juveniles in county custody.

Finding 17-20:

The County Charter requirement that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors hire all department heads creates ambiguity in how department heads are supervised and managed, in that they are responsible both to the county administrator and the members of the Board of Supervisors.

Finding 17-21:

No administrative appeal process exists for department heads to address political interference in the procurement process.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 17-12:

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors must adopt an anti-interference policy to ensure elected officials and their staffs do not interfere with county staff in fulfilling administrative responsibilities.

Recommendation 17-13:

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors must take steps to have the county charter amended to make clear that, while the Board of Supervisors creates county policy, the County Administrator has sole responsibility for hiring and supervising non-elected department heads.

RESPONSES REQUIRED

Alameda County Board of Supervisors:

Findings 17-17 through 17-21

Recommendations 17-12 and 17-13