By Steven Tavares.
A scathing Alameda County grand jury report last June included a number of sharp criticisms against the county and members of the Board of Supervisors. Among them, questioning the Board of Supervisors’ ability to shower unfettered amounts of district funds on community groups without sufficient oversight and allegations of political interference by one supervisor involving a county contract with a well-known Oakland church.
The grand jury’s finding are misguided and many of its recommendations are unwarranted, according a rebuttal to the charges and criticisms approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.
In the case of the potential “dual role” capacity of Supervisor Keith Carson‘s staffer Elaine Brown, the iconic former Black Panther leader, and her connection to the housing non-profit Oakland and the World (OAW,) the grand jury found the supervisor’s use of discretionary funds for the group was a conflict of interest.
The county disagrees, saying Brown was not paid by the non-profit and therefore had no conflict. “Based on these facts, the employee was not financially interested in the contractual relationships between the County and OAW and was not barred from involvement with the contract,” according to the county.
Since its founding in 2014, OAW received $710,000 in funds from Carson’s district allocation of discretionary funds, the grand jury learned. It also alleged Carson attempted to conceal Brown’s connection to OAW in documents by referring to her as it chief financial officer and not its principal executives.
On this point, the county concedes it could have done a better job of transparency. “The board acknowledges in hindsight that in light of the direct involvement of the employee in obtaining county funding, the employee’s status as a county employee and officer of OAW should have been disclosed publicly and noted in the official records.”
The board strongly opposed a grand jury recommendation to significantly limit each supervisors use of discretionary funds, which are derived from county departmental savings, to $25,000 a year, calling it arbitrary. “The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted or reasonable,” said the board.
An official response to the grand jury’s finding and recommendation are required by state law and are included in the subsequent year’s report, typically released in June. Because this is a civil grand jury, and not criminal, the body primarily acts as an independent monitor of county governments.
The board also pushed back on the allegation that Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan inappropriately sought to increase funding for Oakland’s influential Acts Full Gospel Church through the Probation Department, which had questioned whether greater services could be contracted from relsewhere and at lower costs. Again, the board disagreed.
The contracts were approved by the full board and not by Chan, said the rebuttal, and did not constitute influence by a single member.
Anti-interference rules, prescribed by the grand jury, “will not be implemented and is not warranted,” said the board. In addition, it is reasonable for supervisors to investigate and make determinations when it comes to matter involving department heads. Furthermore, any action is made by the full board and not one supervisor, the rebuttal argued.
The board’s grand jury response was not entirely disagreeable. On the subject of email retention among elected officials and county staff, they acknowledged the absence of adequate training and support for the board and employees when it comes to an email retention policy. They, however, noted that while the potential for accidental or negligent deletion of county emails exists, they are not aware of it ever happening.