AContra Costa Grand Jury Report (GJR) recently found that the County’s First Five Commission had serious issues in its management and oversight, alluding to possible influence peddling. The GJR in fact recommended that Commissioners leave the room if contracts that impact them are being discussed. This recommendation alone clearly implies that improprieties were taking place.
Many observers here on Halfway To Concord feel that the other shoe has not yet dropped on possible legal action given how the First Five report was written as compared with other reports issued.
Some people posting here wrote to the Board of Supervisors (BOS). At least three people have stated that they received the same response letter from Supervisor Bonilla, herself a First 5 Commissioner, stating that she would rely on the input of two other First 5 Commissioners (plus David Twa), in their capacity as County Department heads, to suggest ways of implementing the Grand Jury’s results. Fox and henhouse hijinks have ensued as many question why Bonilla can’t decide on her own and why, of all people, she picked those two First Five Commissioners to guide her.
Then this coming week we have one of those very two First Five Commissioners, Department Head Joe Valentine, recommend to the Board of Supervisors that they approve his suggested panel of “citizens” for the FACT Committee. It should be no surprise that every single one of the proposed panel members is in some way connected to First Five, including a current employee and a current Commissioner.
Well for me, it was a total shock to see what Max had uncovered (see comments). There are—and I am positive because I know such people—many other very experienced and qualified people to sit on the FACT Committee that have nothing to do with the First Five Commission, but yet, here we have a First Five Commissioner, using his position as Department Head, to load this obscure committee exclusively with First Five commissioners whose conduct has already been questioned by the GJR.
Why? Max may be a little conspiratorial, but then again, maybe not.
According to the Grand Jury report, the Commissioners knew as far back as the fall of 2009 that First Five was being investigated. In reading more on First Five, the Commission has to have a BOS member on it by statute. This would mean that at least one BOS member would have a built-in apparent conflict of interest in this situation. Mr. Valentine and Dr. Walker would know that Supervisor Bonilla would be in this position. Bonilla would know she would be in this position and they all had to have known they would be in this situation for some months now.
So, let’s pretend that some or all of these folks know how to play politics better than me. Well, that’s no stretch, but if I’m a Supervisor who is seeking higher office and knows some funny business went on under her watch, then perhaps I try to ensure that I cannot be held 100% accountable for how I am going to vote.
So, did the BOS tell her to write that response letter on behalf of the rest of them? Why did she decide to write a letter in response and not them? She’s the only one I got a response from. If she did nothing wrong, and she’s knowledgeable about children’s issues due to being a Commissioner, then it seems to me there is no need for her to ask for help, but, if she really feels she needs a political shield, then, as I said in a post before, ask for help from another county.
I think it’s worth it to push Max’s inference a step further along the conspiracy track: Let’s pretend that Bonilla knowingly asked Joe Valentine and Dr. Walker for help precisely because they are First 5 Commissioners.
So beyond the ‘political shield’ motivation, perhaps she knows they were involved in some improprieties and wants them to have to carry the load on it OR in the alternative, she’s involved with whatever influence peddling or other improprieties that were going on and wants to protect the herd. Either way, she is no political dummy, so there is some reason for it. Time will tell. Let’s just hope she does the right thing for everyone, not just politically connected people.
So now, we go back to Mr. Valentine. Why would he load this little FACT Committee exclusively with First Five people?
Valentine may still have some legal problems should the allegations that were not explicitly addressed in the Grand Jury report result in indictment or other legal problems for him. He knew that Bonilla’s going to be in a tough spot and he probably guessed that she would refer out to him and Dr. Walker for their “expertise” to get the heat off her. Assuming Mr. Valentine knew some improprieties would be raised in the Grand Jury report, it’s clear he had plenty of time to figure out a game plan for himself, and—agreeing with Max’s conspiracy theory here—I’d say he figured he might be able to refer the “expertise” request from Bonilla to this FACT Committee, until perhaps, of course, Max broke the story.
What’s slightly humorous in an arcane way, is if you look at the exit dates for several of the seats: they are only for the period of time in which the BOS must come to some decisions about the First Five Commission – God’s coincidence? Well maybe, but I doubt Joe Valentine has ignored those dates. If Supervisor Bonilla allows Mr. Valentine and perhaps Dr. Walker to suggest that the FACT Committee be the source of the advice given to her, in my opinion there is a serious conflict of interest here that was not built-in by the First Five statute or explainable by anything but personal and/or political calculus.
No matter what, it generates a lot of opinions in me:
First, Mr. Valentine does not think what he does is very traceable to the public.
Second, it implies arrogance in the use of his position: Valentine apparently does not think it is improper that he should have anyone but First Five people on this (his?) Committee. One question that comes to mind is: how is it proper to appoint a First Five employee to the Committee when Mr. Valentine could find himself, theoretically, involved in human resource decisions about such a person in his role as a First Five Commissioner?
Third, Mr. Valentine does not seem to care that someone might figure it out and/or that BOS members may see what he’s doing and still be expected to approve the panel; maybe he might have the procedural process down to such a fine point that he knows he only needs Bonilla (his First Five Commissioner colleague) to push this idea as being the best way to claim that they are all being transparent; he perhaps has calculated that the rest of the BOS may just bend to what Bonilla wants in this situation because they feel sorry for the political position the First Five law puts them all into: maybe it goes like this: “We have to serve on the Commission, Bonilla’s only doing what I would do in the situation.”
Finally, and I suspect Max may like this postulation best, I have pondered whether Mr. Valentine may have calculated that he’s on the way out and so is loading the FACT Committee with people who might be in a position to help him get another job later. What does the FACT Committee do anyway? Advise the BOS? Well, if so, there’s another reason why the proposed panel should be in question.
That all said, the only fact that I can state with certainty about this situation is that we still do not know if crimes were committed or people will be indicted and so, if or until anything happens—or resolves into nothing) on that level—it seems to me whatever any First Five Commissioner says to the public or offers to the Board of Supervisors should be met with the highest level of scrutiny possible.
If nothing else, the FACT Committee proposal reeks: it indicates to me how deeply into the County a level of influence peddling by a small group of people, some of whom may have done some improper things, may have already penetrated.
In sum, the facts suggest the BOS should decline Mr. Valentine’s slate of FACT Committee/First Five Commission members. The First Five Commission is under serious scrutiny for how it deals with its employees and how it conducts business. The First Five situation is still an open item on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda. Beyond Mr. Valentine, it is also not clear if all of the proposed FACT Committee members are free of wrongdoing.
As such, until the response report on the First Five Commission is completed by the Board of Supervisors, I believe it should not approve the slate of FACT Committee members proposed by Mr. Valentine, as all have First Five Commission-connections and thus clearly represent a conflict of interest. It is the only transparent action the BOS can take at this time.
I also would encourage people to write to the BOS this weekend to make their feelings known about this turn of events.