The Marin Post

The Voice of the Community

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Marin County scrambles to correct its illegal Community Service Contracts Program

Almost three years ago, Community Venture Partners (CVP) began an exhaustive investigation into the corrupt practices of the Marin Board of Supervisors and the County Administrator, regarding their covert and illegal distribution of approximately $27 million in county taxpayer funds, over the past 15 years.

The details of that investigation and the accompanying evidence and documentation was published on the Marin Post in a four-part series, starting in July of this year. Subsequently, on September 30, 2019, CVP filed a formal complaint with the Office of the Marin County District Attorney, requesting a criminal investigation of the County.

In our complaint, based on the evidence presented in our Report, we alleged wrong-doing by the County of Marin, which included:

Recently, Marin County announced a new “Nonprofit Community Partners Program.“ The announcement of this new program was clearly in response to our investigation and complaint, and is an attempt to mitigate against compounding violations, going forward. It includes some transparency, a formal application process, conditions and guidelines, a reduction of the annual expenditure for these grants ($700,000 per year versus $1.8 million per year), new limitations on repeat funding, and other terms that attempt to address our list of complaints.

If the County could actually execute this program without the political influence, insider access, and other corrupt practices that have plagued these funding giveaways since their inception, it would be a nice start. But, doing that seems highly unlikely considering how the process of selection remains completely subjective, discretionary, and prejudicial. This is why the Marin County Civil Grand Jury has been advising the County to discontinue these types of funding schemes for almost 20 years.

Worse than that, the "new" program is still fundamentally flawed the same ways the old program was, with some new "process" jargon wrapped around it. It doesn't fix the core issues.

Close but no cigar

Though it is always good for CVP to see change, resulting from our actions, it remains troubling that the County of Marin requires constant vigilance and threats of legal action to keep them on course.

The County’s standard operating procedure appears to be bend the rules as far as they can, even to the point of engaging in criminal activity and regulatory violations, until you get caught, then deny it, while working hard to spin it and say something about being grateful for community input.

Most of us would probably not categorize the threat of legal consequences as a form of community input, but it is what it is.

Our response to the new funding scheme is good try, try again.

The new Nonprofit Community Partners scheme fails to address the state competitive bidding laws and the complications of giving out gifts of funding under the guise of “contracts.” The selection of recipients is not based on any measurable competitive metrics, and there is no competitive bidding. The applications are not evaluated based on value/costs of comparable services, nor are they based on any published predetermined performance specifications or project scope of work descriptions that have been created by the County in advance. The awardees continue to create their own scope of work and project descriptions. This is entirely improper.

The selection of recipients is still a popularity contest, not a competition, wherein those who support or suck up to County officials are rewarded with funding and those who criticize County officials and the County’s actions are excluded. This is why the Marin County Civil Grand Jury has been advising the County to discontinue these types of funding schemes for almost 20 years.

The "new" program still issues contracts to recipients, even though they are still clearly "grants" to nonprofits to do what they will continue to do with or without the funding they will receive. Contract law, applicable accounting standards, and nonprofit, tax exempt giving laws are incompatible and cannot be co-mingled in this manner. The County fails to address these incongruities.

A bigger question is why there are now two, virtually identical, programs—the Community Services Fund and the Nonprofit Community Partners Fund--giving money to local nonprofits? At the end of the day, they both do the same thing, albeit with differing amounts provided.

The scheme also still fails to address the State Constitutional questions we and the Marin County Civil Grand Jury have raised. We acknowledge that in a few special instances, such as healthcare clinics, food banks, and homeless shelters, the services provided by third party nonprofits can legitimately be called “essential,” but the vast majority of the other historical recipients (who are guaranteed to apply) do not even come close to being worthy of that label.

Finally, where is the legal authority or the public mandate to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funding, every year, for any reason? Of course, the recipients like it, but what about everyone else who's paying for it?

These issues deserve open public hearings and open, public decision making.

Past actions have present consequences

If you rob banks for ten years, then “reform” yourself in order to claim you’ll never rob banks anymore, you can still be prosecuted for the banks you robbed in the past. The new Community Nonprofit Partners Fund in no way absolves the County of the legal liability for their past illegal actions.

CVP has emphasized this fact to the Marin County District Attorney.

I would also note that the Marin County District Attorney’s office is not the only agency CVP filed complaints with, and we have subsequently received written acknowledgment of investigations opened by other agencies that have authority and oversight in these matters.

Those investigations are confidential at this time.

Bob Silvestri is a Mill Valley resident and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded only by individuals in Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. Please consider DONATING TO CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of Marin residents.