County governments across the state are spending enormous amounts of your tax money lobbying Sacramento, sometimes even against your interests.
The latest target of the counties’ political and public relations machine is AB 1250, a bill that would establish transparency and accountability standards to guide outsourcing of services to the private sector.
Behind all the hyperbole and doomsday warnings from counties and The Modesto Bee’s own editorial (“Want to bankrupt counties? Pass AB 1250,” Our View, Sept. 7), is a simple question: If counties’ contracts with the private sector are delivering the quality services and cost savings they promise, then why are counties so determined not to show it? Unfortunately, as workers have fought to institute reasonable standards to protect taxpayers’ money, we’ve found the counties determined to protect a status quo that allows boards of supervisors and high-ranking county officials to steer millions in contracts to their friends and campaign contributors.
Consider these examples:
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▪ Corizon is a giant jail healthcare company that contracts with Alameda, Fresno, Santa Barbara and Tulare counties. The company’s abysmal track record includes more than 1,300 lawsuits, including wrongful death and sexual assault. An Alameda County man died because Corizon violated the law and used underqualified staff to save money, robbing five children of a father and putting taxpayers on the hook for a record-breaking settlement. Still, Alameda County offered Corizon a no-bid contract extension after the company made hefty donations to the county sheriff and county supervisors.
▪ In Orange County, workers warned against hiring Xerox to overhaul the county’s IT systems, but the board of supervisors didn’t listen. After taking more than $180,000 in contributions from Xerox and related parties, the Orange County Board approved a five-year contract for $26 million more than Xerox’s initial bid. Years later, the project is still unfinished, over budget and county workers have had to step in to fix Xerox’s shoddy work.
To deflect accountability for these indefensible practices, the California State Association of Counties has hidden behind non-profit agencies, misrepresenting AB 1250 as a bill intended to halt counties work with charitable organizations. To the contrary, AB 1250 simply ensures that new contracts are awarded with open, competitive bidding; that contracting out saves taxpayers money, and that funds are properly accounted for.
Still, if counties are so concerned about the underserved communities these organizations reach, they would do well to explain why non-profit agencies should be able to expend hundreds of millions of dollars without oversight – a situation ripe for abuse of the very people they claim to protect.
An Alameda County Grand Jury report found 40 percent of county contracts with community organization lacked any reporting requirements on outcomes. In Los Angeles, a non-profit stole $8.5 million taxpayer dollars earmarked for serving the homeless, foster youth and domestic violence survivors, using the money for lavish perks, vacations, a Jaguar and chartering a yacht.
AB 1250 would bring county contracting out of the shadows by requiring open, public bidding before contracts are signed. The process outlined in AB 1250 has been used successfully by state agencies, schools, community colleges and libraries for years – without interfering with contracts that are in the public’s best interest.
With their disingenuous campaign against AB 1250, county governments have demonstrated they can’t be counted on to stand up for the public interest. Now it’s up to legislators to protect taxpayers and vulnerable people counting on our counties to get contracting right by supporting AB 1250.
Kate Selover is a Child Support Officer with Stanislaus County Child Support Services Department and chapter president of SEIU 521. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.