Contra Costa Times pokes fun at Richmond’s hand wringing, criticizes County for not evaluating risk; Poe accuses Piepho of conflict. See below:
Richmond crabby over call center loss to Concord
By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/23/2013 06:05:00 PM PDT
Richmond just can't let it go after Contra Costa supervisors, in a 3-2 vote, chose Concord over the "City of Pride and Purpose" for a new 200-job call center.
The Richmond City Council says it will fire off a "It's not fair!" letter to Covered California, the state agency helping residents sign up for health insurance later this year under the federal Affordable Care Act.
And Richard Poe, who owns the proposed call center site in Richmond, is asking Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho to recuse herself from all future call center votes because her brother works for Garaventa Enterprises, which owns the Concord site.
"The county has a policy to avoid even the appearance of an impropriety, and the government code requires elected officials to act impartially," Poe said.
There's also grumbling in Richmond about a Garaventa relative who works as a legislative aide for Supervisor Federal Glover.
They note that Garaventa interests have donated to all five sitting supervisors' campaigns.
Oh, and did anyone mention that Supervisor Karen Mitchoff attended a Garaventa wedding?
None of these relationships trigger the conflict of interest clause, says Contra Costa County Attorney Sharon Anderson.
Under state law, an elected official must recuse him or herself from a vote if the outcome will result in personal financial gain or financial gain for his or her spouse and dependents.
Piepho's brother, five-term Central Sanitary District board member Jim Nejedly, doesn't depend on his sister for his livelihood -- he has worked for the Garaventas' garbage company for 20-plus years, well in excess of her nine years in office.
Campaign contributions do not count unless they are proven bribes, in which case, they are also felonies.
Interestingly, if every supervisor with a connection to Poe, Garaventa or both is disqualified, no one would have been left to vote.
Supervisor John Gioia did some legal work for Poe in the 1990s, and Poe gave money to Gioia's 2010 campaign.
As for those verbal grenades about overheated politics, hearing Richmond City Council members smack down another board's decision as too political is a real knee-smacker -- this is a city where residents pour politics over their cornflakes every morning.
The call center vote was first and foremost about geography: Electeds want to bring home jobs, and Concord is closer to more constituents in four of the five supervisors' districts.
To overcome Concord's political geographical advantage, the Richmond site needed to be wildly cheaper, but the Garaventas kept matching or exceeding Poe's offers.
The Concord landlord also had another lead -- Comcast ran a call center in the building until late last year and left behind a good deal of usable equipment and technology.
That said, the Garaventas' involvement undeniably enhanced the Concord site's appeal given the decades the influential family has been on the county's political and business landscape.
But Poe leveraged his political relationships, too. He persuaded the Richmond City Council to offer him a $1 million loan of taxpayer money to help make his bid more competitive.
In the end, Poe whittled his Richmond three-year lease price down to $876,000 by the night of the supervisors' vote, roughly $115,000 less than Concord's offer.
It wasn't enough.
And a few days before the vote, Poe made last-minute convoluted real estate maneuvers -- he switched his offer to his building next door -- and he and Richmond lost whatever slim chance they had to overcome geography or politics.
There are lessons aplenty in this civics exercise, but one in particular rises to the top.
Concord may have won the call center, but the real winners are the county's taxpayers -- During the unusual public bidding war, the three-year lease cost on the Garaventa building dropped from $3 million on Feb. 6 to less than $1 million by the time the supervisors voted.
It's a powerful argument for more sunshine in government real estate negotiations, which almost always take place behind closed doors.
GOT POLITICS? Read PoliticsWithLisaV.blogspot.com.
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, email@example.com, politicswithlisav.blogspot.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.
Daniel Borenstein: Contra Costa supervisors, public kept in the dark about Obamacare call center risk
By Dan Borenstein, Staff columnist © 2013, Bay Area News Group
Posted: 03/22/2013 01:06:43 PM PDT
Updated: 03/22/2013 01:06:43 PM PDT
Despite months of discussion and debate on whether Contra Costa should operate an Obamacare health insurance call center, taxpayers and the Board of Supervisors were blindsided by the county social services director just before the deciding vote.
The state has responsibility for setting up call centers in California to provide comparative information on policies and help residents sign up for insurance that most people must carry starting Jan. 1, 2014.
The state plans to operate two of the call centers and contract out the third to a county. Only two counties bid; Contra Costa was selected. That sent county officials scrambling to negotiate contract detail with the state, find a site, and reach accord with labor unions on work terms for about 200 new employees.
Supervisors had promised there would be no burden on the county general fund. All attention focused on the labor negotiations and the site selection, with good reason. Kathy Gallagher, director of Employment and Human Services Department, was publicly saying that the contract with the state was resolved.
On Feb. 12, she reported that agreement with the state was "imminent." Her Feb. 26 report says, "County Counsel and the County Administrator's Office have concluded a number of conference call meetings to discuss contract language and have come to agreement on the terms of the contract and contract language." She repeated that in reports for the March 12 meeting and for March 15, the special meeting date.
But, as that critical meeting began, Gallagher came clean. She said the state had refused to agree to mutual indemnification, thereby leaving the county with greater financial exposure to lawsuits stemming from operation of its call center.
She noted the risk if, for example, an insurance company sued, claiming it had been blacklisted because the call center was not being fair about referrals. Even if such a claim was illegitimate, legal defense costs could be significant.
"The bottom line at the end of the day," Gallagher said, "is this is a significant risk to the county general fund."
It was the first public mention of the problem. Supervisors John Gioia and Candace Andersen said they got hints just a day or two before.
Gallagher later dismissed the issue as no-harm-no-foul because the board, even when warned, approved the contract on a 3-2 vote. She misses the point: She had misled everyone -- in writing -- for weeks, leaving no time for public debate or exploration of the magnitude of the risk.
Gallagher also later claimed the legal exposure would only be a problem if the county were actually sued. That's wrong. First, it's like saying that a driver's failure to carry insurance is only a problem if he gets into an accident. Second, it contradicts her statement to the board about "significant risk."
The county could protect against that risk with insurance. Gallagher says the budget for the call center includes $15,000 for liability protection through the county's self-insurance fund. But she can't tell me how the number was calculated. I'm told that it doesn't account for the lack of mutual indemnification.
Gallagher says her staff reports reflected her understanding from Deputy County Counsel Jachyn Davis, who was handling the contract details, that the state had verbally agreed to mutual indemnification but later backed out. Davis did not return my call or email. The state position is reflected in a March 14 letter to the county, saying it had made a number of changes to address county concerns and would make no more.
Thinking you have an agreement is different from having one. If there was uncertainty, Gallagher should have said so in her reports.
To be sure, Gallagher has been on the job only a few months and was thrown into this politically charged battle when she arrived. And on the day of the vote, it was clear that three supervisors -- Karen Mitchoff, Federal Glover and Mary Piepho -- were hell-bent on going forward, no matter the risk.
But the public deserved to know the truth and have an opportunity to lobby its representatives based on reliable information. Instead, residents, like the supervisors, were kept in the dark.
Contact columnist and editorial writer Daniel Borenstein at 925-943-8248 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/borensteindan.
Christopher J. Hunter
March 24, 2013
Via Electronic Mail
Contra Costa County
Attention: Sharon Anderson
651 Pine Street, 9th Floor
Martinez, California 94553
Re: Conflict of Interest
Dear County Counsel:
This firm represents Marina Westshore Partners, LLC, the owner of 1400 Marina Way South in Richmond, California. Marina Bay Partners is the low bidder in the effort to secure the County’s call center for the Affordable Care Act as demonstrated by the County’s own analysis.
In a 3-2 vote, the County recently selected a site for the call center in a building in Concord, California owned by the Garaventa family, who have substantial interests and influence in Contra Costa County. As noted in the Contra Costa Times:
The influential Garaventa family has considerable real estate holdings, including three call centers. It also owns the Concord site, a former Comcast call center in the city's industrial park east of Highway 4 near Port Chicago. They also own Concord Disposal, which has a contract with the city for garbage service. While calling the longtime Central Contra Costa family "kingmakers" is overly dramatic, would-be candidates seek their support. The Garaventas are -- and have been for years -- among the most reliable campaign contributors in the county. In the past three years, the Garaventas have contributed to four of the five county supervisors' campaigns -- Federal Glover, of Pittsburg, $8,000; Mary Nejedly Piepho, of Discovery Bay, $5,535; John Gioia, of Richmond, $5,025; and Karen Mitchoff, of Pleasant Hill, $2,000. (The Garaventas supported Supervisor Candace Andersen's opponent.)
Lisa Vorderbrueggen, “Inside Politics: Battle royale over call center jobs comes to light,” Contra Costa Times, March 9, 2013
We understand that the decision to select the Concord location is being reconsidered. To that end, we call your attention to the fact that Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho, who voted for the Concord site, is the sister of Jim Nejedly, a senior executive for Garaventa Enterprises. While the brother-sister relationship does not come under the absolute prohibition of Government Code Section 82029, County officials are required in all cases to avoid even the appearance of impropriety (Kimura v. Roberts, (1979) 89 Cal.App.3d 871). This policy was officially adopted by the Board of Supervisors in Resolution 2002/376. In addition, Government Code Section 81001(b) states that “Public officials should perform their duties in an impartial manner, free from bias caused by financial interests of themselves or their supporters.”
We therefore ask that Mary Nejedly Piepho recuse herself from future votes on the County’s call center. Please review the facts, law and circumstances in this matter and feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this further.
Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to my client’s concerns.
Ring Hunter Holland & Schenone, LLPchristopher j. hunter
Cc: Marina Westshore Partners
Board of Supervisors