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There Is No Public Oversight of MALT’s Expenditure of Measure A Funds

As we approach the June 7 election in which Marin County voters will decide whether to pass renewed funding for MALT through Measure A, an argument has been made that there is oversight of MALT’s use of Measure A funds.

The "Yes on Measure A" website states that, “Strong Fiscal Oversight Will Continue” and points to the “Independent citizen oversight, mandatory financial audits and annual reports” of the use of Measure A funding.

Marin County Parks similarly asks, “Is there oversight for Parks Measure A expenditures?” and answers:

“Yes, the Measure A Community Oversight Committee has seven members, monitors Measure A expenditures, assists with audits, and approves each year’s annual report. The Committee holds two public meetings each year. Measure A expenditures also undergo two compliance audits annually. Measure A annual reports and audit information is available on marincountyparks.org."

While these statements are emphatic, they are grossly misleading. In fact, there is NO functional transparency or oversight into MALT activities and uses of Measure A funds.

The path of an application for Measure A funds

MALT receives multiple applications from owners of agricultural land interested in selling conservation easements to MALT.

Members of the MALT staff evaluate these applications and make recommendations to the MALT Board and its Stewardship sub-committee regarding which applications to consider, the factual circumstances that tend to give higher priority to one application or easement over another, financing options, and the actions necessary to complete each easement acquisition. The MALT Board takes actions on these recommendations, including but not limited to ordering appraisals and entering into agreements with landowners and donors, including the County.

Applications submitted to MALT are not provided to any public entity at any point during this process, nor are they available for public review.

MALT does not provide public access to its Board meetings, nor to the meetings of any of the Board’s sub-committees. MALT does not post agendas for its meetings in any publicly accessible location.

MALT selects which easements to purchase entirely without County influence.

Once it has selected an easement to purchase, MALT submits a Measure A Farmland Preservation Program Grant Application (“FPP Grant Application”) to the County Parks Agency. MALT does not include a copy of the application submitted to MALT by the property owner in its FPP Grant Applications.

According to the FPP Grant Application, itself, once Parks receives an application, it:

“reviews the application for completeness and content, completes the assessment process, conducts any necessary site visits, and proceeds with compiling other additional information necessary to make a final funding recommendation to the Marin County Board of Supervisors.”

Once the FPP Grant Application is complete, which includes a MALT-commissioned appraisal of the easement and the property on which it is located, Parks reviews the real estate related documents with the assistance of the County Department of Public Works, Real Estate Division.

The Department of Public Works’ review consists of little more than double-checking figures and finalizing legal language. Parks has never rejected an Application from MALT, nor has it ever requested significant amendment or modification of an Application, on the basis of the Department of Public Works’ review.

During its entire process of reviewing and approving FPP Grant Applications, Parks never inquires about or reviews MALT’s easement selection or selection process. Nor has Parks commissioned any independent appraisals, reports or opinions.

Since Measure A’s passage, MALT has submitted 12 FPP Grant Applications Parks. Parks has recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve all 12 of MALT’s FPP Grant Applications without significant amendment or modification.

After the Department of Public Works’ review, Parks prepares a grant agreement and final recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

Prior to approving all 12 of MALT’s FPP Grant Applications, the Board of Supervisors conducted no review of MALT’s easement selection or selection process, nor did it commission any independent appraisals, reports or opinions. Indeed, the Board of Supervisors conducts no review of MALT’s FPP Grant Applications – it receives only Parks’ recommendation to authorize a grant in a specified amount.

The Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved all 12 of MALT’s FPP Grant Applications without any amendment or modification.

The Measure A Community Oversight Committee

Long after the Board of Supervisors approves a FPP grant, the Measure A Community Oversight Committee reviews the expenditure. The Oversight Committee is tasked with:

  1. reviewing Measure A expenditures on an annual basis to ensure they conform with the terms of the Ordinance,
  2. overseeing an annual audit and preparing an annual report of expenditure of Measure A funds, and
  3. advising the Board of Supervisors and County staff on matters pertaining to Measure A. The Oversight Committee reports to the Director of Parks.

Pursuant to the terms of Measure A, the seven members of the Oversight Committee are appointed by the Board of Supervisors and “shall be county residents who are neither elected officials of any government, nor employees from any agency or organization that either oversees or benefits from the proceeds of the sales tax.”

The Oversight Committee commissions two audits every year: an audit of all Measure A expenditures and an audit of Measure A grant recipients. The scope of both audits is limited.

The first, an audit of Measure A expenditures, performed annually by a private accounting firm, verifies that the County deposited and correctly allocated all Measure A sales tax receipts into the appropriate funds, that the payments made from Measure A funds were valid and conform to Measure A, and that payroll costs charged to Measure A funds were appropriate and did not exceed the limits set by Measure A.

The second, an audit of Measure A grant recipients, performed annually by the Marin County Department of Finance, Internal Audit Division, verifies that expenditures made by grant recipients from Measure A funds conform to the requirements of Measure A and that Measure A funds were maintained in a separate fund.

Neither audit commissioned by the Oversight Committee investigates MALT’s easement selection or selection process, or even reviews MALT’s FPP Grant Application.

The Oversight Committee has never investigated MALT’s easement selections or selection process, nor has the Oversight Committee commissioned any independent appraisals, reports or opinions.

The Oversight Committee has never expressed concern about an FPP grant or use of FPP proceeds by MALT.

Efforts to demand transparency and oversight

MALT has consistently fought against efforts by good governance activists to encourage transparency and oversight. Notably:

Why is this important?

Without public oversight of how MALT chooses which applications it will accept, MALT has unregulated control over taxpayer funds. In 2020, MALT was accused of insider dealing and subsequently was forced to return an $833,250 Measure A grant to the County. Without public oversight into MALT’s process of reviewing applications, there is no way to prevent the type of insider dealing alleged in 2020; MALT’s board can conduct itself any way it wishes and the public has no idea if an appropriation has transpired where a conflict-of-interest occurred or an appraisal was inflated or an easement was purchased on a ranch that may not have necessary.

The following article - "MALT’s alleged misappropriation of our Measure A funds" - details what occurs behind MALT's closed doors when the public has no oversight into MALT’s business. The facts in this article came from Public Records Act requests that MALT has since sued Marin County, demanding the return of the documents. Therefore, there will never be another inside look into MALT’s business dealings as found in this article … unless oversight is demanded.

Changes must be made before we vote yes on Measure A

Marin County must institute oversight mechanisms to protect the Marin taxpayer. These includes:

  1. Signing a contract with MALT when it receives a Measure A grant to ensure MALT provides the services we are purchasing. A contractual relationship will not only give the County recourse, it will also require MALT to comply with FPPC recusal, disclosure, and conflict-of-interest regulations required of ALL non-profits like MALT;
  2. The re-appointment of Supervisor Rodoni to the MALT Board. Instead of MALT’s evasive action of removing Supervisor Rodoni, meant to prevent Public Records Act requests like the one MALT sued Marin County to arrest, appointing the 4th District Supervisor to the MALT board would:
    1. allow the public to review documents related to how MALT spends our Measure A tax dollars, and
    2. require MALT to comply with Brown Act, guaranteeing the public's right to attend and participate in meetings in which MALT will be allocating our tax revenues. It worthwhile to note that the appointment on the 4th District Supervisor was a KEY requirement in the 1980 Board of Supervisors resolution No. 80-148 "recognizing the Marin Agricultural Land Trust" a month prior to MALT's creation; this requirement must be reinstituted.
  3. Independent, County-commissioned appraisals of easement values. With the numerous allegations of appraisal inflation detailed in the above-linked article, this simple action would ensure that Marin taxpayers are purchasing easements at fair market value.

Until these actions are taken, we must VOTE NO ON MEASURE A.

Once a properly written measure is put before us, we can vote yes on Measure A in the November election.

Tags

Measure A, MALT, oversight, transparency, Marin Agricultural Land Trust