The recent the Marin IJ coverage of the complaint against the County of Marin, by Community Venture Partners, discussed the content of our complaints with little understanding of the issues at stake and appeared to accept whatever the County said as fact. For reference, see Marin County scrambles to correct its illegal Community Service Contracts Program.
I remain baffled why the IJ acts as Marin County's version of Fox News, dumbing everything down to melodramatic "he said - she said" narratives and treating whatever county officials claim to be true, as true, without a hint of skepticism or independent research. For example, Hymel is allowed to spin the entire narrative by quoting the names of five organizations to demonstrate how deserving they are.
This avoids the fact that those cherry-picked names are probably the few "essential" services among hundreds of others that are in no way essential. But this avoids the fact that it doesn't matter who they gift funds to, it's the gifting of public funds, and doing so under the guise of bogus "contracts" that are the problem.
I suppose that is what it is.
However, the IJ article reveals something far more important. Halstead quotes Matthew Hymel as saying that the County's sudden changes to their service contracts program, which they've been operating for more than 15 years, have nothing to do with CVP's three year-long investigation and complaint to the District Attorney, but rather,
“It’s probably more of a response to some constructive conversations we’ve had with the civil grand jury this fall where they were asking about our process. That made us think we could make it more transparent and thorough.” [Emphasis added]
There are problems with that statement.
First of all, Matthew Hymel's righteous indignation aside, it is curious that no one at the County has actually addressed the facts in our complaint (over 150 pages of evidence attached: emails and accounting reports). They continue to shoot the messenger, suggesting that criticizing the County (instead of showering them with praise?) is "unproductive" and impolite or that the allegations are "outrageous."
But there's a more important consequence of Mr. Hymel's claim.
CVP filed a request for an investigation into the Community Service Contracts Program, with the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, on June 26th of 2019. The Grand Jury process is strictly confidential, so we still have no idea if the Grand Jury decided to open an investigation into the matter or not, and we won't know unless or until a public report is issued in the future.
Subsequently, CVP published its research, report, and allegations in July of 2019 on the Marin Post. Marin Post metrics show that thousands of people in Marin County read it.
However, Matthew Hymel's defense of the new contracts program is based on this claim that he has been having "constructive conversations" with the Grand Jury on this matter. This could be extremely problematic because if, in fact, the Grand Jury is conducting an investigation into the Community Service Contracts program and if that was the premise under which the County talked to them, anyone who talks to the Grand Jury about anything is admonished from discussing it with anyone else, much less using what was discussed as a public defense.
So, in that instance, the penalty for the type of statement Mr. Hymel just made to Richard Halstead would be contempt of court - which is a criminal offense.
The Marin Grand Jury's admonishment declaration reads,
You are admonished not to reveal to any person, except as directed by the court, which questions were asked or what responses were given or any other matters concerning the nature or subject of the grand jury's investigation communicated to you in connection with the investigation and/or in your appearance before the grand jury, unless and until such time as a transcript (if any), or a final report, of this grand jury proceeding is made public or until authorized by this grand jury or the court to disclose such matters. A violation of this admonition is punishable as contempt of court. [Emphasis added]
More significantly, however, is that if Matthew Hymel is telling the truth (a big "if") and the Marin Grand Jury is actually investigating our complaint about the Community Service Contracts program and has interviewed the County, they are supposed to be investigating them, not offering "constructive conversations" about how to avoid accountability. So what exactly is the truth?
Something's not right, here.
CVP filed its complaint with the Marin County District Attorney in early September, which was also published and heavily read on the Marin Post. All this considered, according to Matthew Hymel, we are to believe that the County's uncharacteristic cooperation with the Grand Jury "this fall," (the County has dismissed almost everything the Grand Jury has done, for decades) is not at all connected to CVP's actions?
Lastly, another problem with Hymel's explanation is that the
public record makes it abundantly clear that
the Marin Grand Jury has never investigated, reviewed, nor were they ever even aware that the Community Service Contracts program existed. In the past 20 years, the Grand Jury has only investigated and commented on the Community Service Grants program, not the Contracts program.
That is the whole point of our complaint.
CVP remains convinced that the
discretionary, giving away of public, taxpayer funds to favored
nonprofits is indefensible and frankly in violation of state law. And that regardless of any changes the County makes, going forward, they are not absolved of legal liability for their past actions.
No one is above the law.
See Marin County scrambles to correct its illegal Community Service Contracts Program for more details.
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.