Thursday, October 6, 2022

Foursome in the Forum (Part Two)

Good morn-ternoon-ening Pittsburger! As promised, this is the second part of a two part series! Did you read part one? Yes? Well, read it again, your friend Zorro loves page views. Then, on we go. When we left our intrepid candidates for the District Five County Supervisor race, we were beginning a trek into a canyon. The Keller Canyon Mitigation Fund, to be precise. Hang on Pittsburgers, because we are about to put the “fun” back into “fund.”


In a Cavern, In a Canyon…

Maybe let’s start with the burning question you have been nursing for a week – “The Killer Canyon Mastication Fund? What are you talking about, Zorro?” Glad you asked! The Keller Canyon Mitigation Fund was established in 1992 to address the impacts of East County landfill on roads, open space, and the surrounding community. Are you still awake, Pittsburger? If so, let’s take a little walk through Keller Canyon…


According to a 2011 report from a Contra County Grand Jury on government “ethics and transparency issues” (or, “corruption” as it is more commonly known), the Fund gathers dumping fees and then gives out those funds through an application process. (See page 5.) In ten years, the fund gave out about $14 million.


According to a report from the Contra Costa Bee from 2010, Glover and a District 3 Supervisor, Mary Piepho were implicated in a Contra Costa Auditor’s report in complaints regarding the misuse of over $600,000 of money from the Fund. The allegations were that the supervisors were using the Fund as personal slush funds to dole out payments to local special interests without proper approval from the Fund and Board of Supervisors. The auditor noted that the audit controls of the fund are very deficient and without appropriate auditing and oversight, the potential for misuse of the funds is ever-present.


The 2011 grand jury investigated these and other allegations: that the Fund is used as a political slush fund; that it lacked appropriate record-keeping for receipt of funds, applications, work plans, and progress reports; and that substantial amounts were being paid outside of the intent and guidelines of the Fund, often without approval from the Board of Supervisors. The grand jury noted that the auditor’s report found more than $600,000 spent from the fund without required approval. How did this happen? In 2005, the fund was removed from oversight by the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee. Well, heck Pittsburger, it is almost as if someone wanted the Fund to be misused.


The Grand Jury recommended “restoring transparency, accountability, and public confidence in county governance with regard to the [Fund].” The recommendations included establishing an ethics policy and provisions for recusal from decisions in granting money from the Fund to organizations where the Fund Committee members also sit on the boards of the recipient organizations. These recommendations all sound pretty good, for a start. But, they seem to have been non-starters.


Glover sits on the Fund Committee, of course. Based on a 2015 press release about the recipients of Fund money in 2015-2016, the Fund held $1,394,702 for the fiscal year and distributed the money to “county agencies and nonprofit organizations that improve the quality of life in Bay Point and Pittsburg….” Based on the allocation plan, over $300,000 went either to the cost of the Fund administration itself, or to organizations run by or employing family members and close friends of Glover.


For example, $15,000 went to the Craft Community Care Center, DBA STS Academy. I am not going to dispute the worthiness of the academy as an organization, but just going to point out that Federal Glover sits on the Board. As does Pittsburg City Councilmember and long-time Glover supporter Sal Evola. $10,000 from the Fund went to Open Opportunities, Inc., an agency with Pittsburg City Councilmember and relation, long-time friend, and Glover supporter, Merl Craft, acting as the Executive Director. For more details, see here and here. $10,000 went to Opportunity Junction, an organization with Jackie Seeno on the board. Does the name Seeno sound familiar, Pittsburger? If you live here, it really should because, if you moved here in the last five to ten years, look at who built your house. Suffice to say, that family business of real estate development is a long-time supporter of Glover. Oh, and on the advisory board for Open Opportunities? You guessed it, Federal Glover. I could go on (and on and on), but I think you’re getting the picture, Pittsburger.


Just as startling is the amount of money that is circling the drain of Contra Costa County, District 5, and Fund administrative costs. $95,000 went from the Fund to pay for a Contra Costa County Code Development and Compliance Attorney. What that has to do with the stated mission of the Fund is anyone’s guess. $50,000 went to pay for three events in District 5: Peace in the Streets, Youth Summit, and Relay for Life. Guess who sponsors all of these events? C’mon, you’ll never guess… Another $15,000 paid a stipend for District 5 interns, $14,350 paid for District 5 technology upgrades. Then there is the money from the Fund used to pay for the Fund itself. This includes $60,000 to the County Department of Conservation and Development for Fund Administration, another $25,000 for monitoring Fund recipients, $100,000 for something called “Target Area Staff Services.” Whatever that last one is, we got $100,000 worth of it in a single year. Then there are the smaller administrative costs, $2,000 for a reception, and $11,900 for a reporting system on the online application development.


The reason for this lengthy digression, Pittsburger, is to raise a question. Why is Glover the only candidate for his seat on the County Board of Supervisors who is opposed to expanding the use of the Fund to other parts of the County? Well, the non-cynical answer would be that the fund is meant to provide funding for local organizations and causes, organizations and causes that just happen to be affiliated with the key Fund Committee member who decides which organizations and causes get funding.


Forgive me, Pittsburger, if I cannot accept such a view. And let me reiterate: your friend Zorro is not disparaging any of the organizations or causes named. Some of them do great work and non-profits always struggle for funding. The issue I have is that we, the public, are faced with local government that cares very little about the appearance of impropriety with public funds, regardless of whether impropriety actually exists. Glover has already been implicated in allegations of the misuse of public money from the Fund to reward supporters, yet money from the Fund for which he still sits on the Committee is regularly given with little or no oversight to organizations in which he is either directly or indirectly interested. And a lot of money gets channeled back into the Fund itself. This naturally means that there are other worthy causes and organizations that are not affiliated with Glover that do not get funding, and it casts a pall over our ability to trust that the local government is being run in a transparent and above-board fashion.


In the End…

I will close with this pithy observation from the East Bay Times, dear Pittsburger-

Federal Glover has been a Contra Costa County supervisor for four terms. Voters should elect him to a fifth.

Please allow me, in my own circuitous way, to offer a rebuttal in true forum style…Ahem.

No, they shouldn’t.


At least, they shouldn’t based on a pablum of regurgitated campaign slogans disguised as an editorial. Voters should look at the information available on each of the candidates and make an informed choice. You may not agree with your friend Zorro, and that is cool, we can still be friends. Just know that my goal here is not to endorse a particular candidate. It is not even really to oppose a particular candidate, though I focused more on the problems of the incumbent than the problems of the contenders, because that is what it means to be an incumbent.


My goal is to give you more information, Pittsburger, based on publicly-available and easy to verify data, so you can make the best choice for your family and your community. Maybe at the end of the day, you will decide that Glover is capable of more good than harm. Maybe you can accept the appearance of graft, corruption, and nepotism as a Realpolitik necessary evil and a sign of a career politician who knows how things work. If that is your choice, good on ya.


But if it is not, anyone who shared the stage with Glover at the recent county supervisor candidates’ forum could be a viable alternative. Of the contenders, Anamarie Farias seems to have the best organization and most realistic mindset heading into the run-off. Most importantly, she managed to piss off Glover by having the temerity to run against him, by focusing on housing and transportation issues which have gotten more dire under Glover’s watch, and by suggesting that the Fund might be used for more public good than as an (alleged) slush fund. Conrad Dandridge also brought a thoughtful sense of decorum to the forum and seems to really care about the people. All of the people including the poor and disenfranchised in the district. Your friend Zorro will stop short of endorsing anyone, but elections provide great opportunities for change, and this corner of the world could really use some changes.