Oxnard Whistleblowers- Part 2

By Kevin Harris
 
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”… Winston Churchill
 
When we last left you in Part 1 of Whistleblowers in Oxnard: Triumph & Tragedy,” we had just finished with our partial historical snapshot of corruption in Oxnard, told through the heroic actions of a few local whistleblowers. We concluded Part 1 the same way we started it; explaining that, despite the best efforts of some of those heroes, Oxnard not only still doesn’t have a whistleblower policy in place, but the one that is currently being worked on has somehow been changed, for the worse.
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 Bert Perello
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But according to Councilmember Bert Perello, that is not because of a lack of effort on the part of the City Council, which has sent what would be an effective, working whistleblower policy to the Fiscal Policy Task Force for implementation. When Perello inquired about the status of the financing, they told him they had still not yet released it for bidding.

“In the most recent tape of the fiscal policy (from the Task Force meeting), it got changed to the internal auditor that is going to do the work for the golf course, the performing arts, CityCorps and overtime,” Perello said. “And it got added in the mix. HOW? Beats the #@^&! out of me. It was not an action by the council,” he added.
 
Perello said the new whistleblower policy, with the mysteriously-added internal auditor, is the one the council will go forward with, as imperfect as it may be. “That’s what was given to us, and I want to go forward with the whistleblower thing. So OK, we’re stuck. That’s what we’re going to do,” Perello admitted.
 
When questioned further, Perello explained that the change was not made to the policy by the Fiscal Policy Task Force. He said that when the public began demanding a whistleblower policy in earnest, the task force sent the council’s whistleblower policy to Steve Fischer, the recently appointed City Attorney, but that, according to Perello, the policy still was not changed to use an internal auditor even after it came back from the attorney.
 
City Attorney Stephen Fischer
 
So where then, was the change made? Or was a change, in fact, ever made?

According to City Attorney Stephen Fischer, that answer is no. Fischer said the term “internal auditor” does not actually refer to the auditor, but rather to the programs the auditor is evaluating. In this case, internal issues, such as those previously mentioned; the golf course, the performing arts, city core and overtime.
 
“Council held its session in December to discuss its whistleblower policy, and directed its staff to bring back a policy that delegates review of fraud, waste and abuse to a neutral third party,” Fischer explained. “For the past year they’ve been trying to procure an internal audit service that’s an independent contractor, not a city employee,” he added.
 
So if the City Attorney is correct, for all intents and purposes, there is no real auditor problem with the whistleblower policy being prepared for passage by the council. That being the case, Fischer is pleased with the direction of the policy as it exists now.

“It seems to do what the council was looking for, mainly the hotline function is what I think they were after. So I think they were looking for structure,” he said. “People can always report fraud waste and abuse, and there are state laws that protect those people from retaliation. This (hotline) provides a structure to submit those complaints,” he added.
 
Fischer did the vast majority of the legwork in researching the legalities, finding what others have done, ensuring that it met the requirements voiced by the council, after a public airing of the matter, then finalizing the written version.
 
 
“To believe all men honest would be folly. To believe none so is something worse.”… John Adams
 
 
During an April, 2016 City Council meeting, the latest whistleblower policy was presented, and adopted. All that was left was for the Fiscal Policy Task Force to solicit contractors to finally make it a reality. But as sometimes happens, despite the heroic work of so many leading up to this point, public agency bureaucracy, foot dragging and incompetence has left the whistleblower policy in limbo – yet to be implemented.
 
The RFP process was questioned by Councilman/Task Force Member Bert Perello as flawed–  in vendors contacted, the evaluation process, who voted on the RFP’s, even inconsistency of RFP versions sent to different vendors. He questioned the criteria for the bid list and was seemingly vindicated, as it will be expanded.
 
And while it would be easy to feel disheartened by yet another setback – to find ourselves in September already, without an effective whistleblower program in force/implemented, it might be useful to remember that there are those who continue to quietly, but doggedly struggle to right the wrongs around us, and to make it safer for the rest of us to join them in that struggle.
 (continued below)
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September 14 Fiscal Policy Task Force Meeting
 
At the task force meeting, the Whistleblower/Auditor subject came up (watch 32:16 on the event video). It was resolved that with CFO Dave Millican’s resignation, the great distractions of the very difficult City financial audit and the prior failure of the Whistleblower Auditor RFP process, that the process was stalled. It would be restarted under the direction of former Management Partners Consultant Bob Deis. He provided no schedule or plan for doing so. 
 
Deis then solicited input on the process. Perello said to define  a specific scope- Auditor/Whistleblower activities- scope, schedule and budget, by function. He wants one member of the task Force to be on the evaluation committee and to enforce RFP rules and deadlines this time.  Chair Brian MacDonald expanded that to two members. Resident and former Oxnard Finance Director Phil Molina said to have the City Clerk control the bidding process and ensure responses are complete. MacDonald pointed out that a services contract does not have to be low biddre.
 
In a response to a question from George Miller (Publisher of CitizensJournal.us) clarifying if the Auditor would report to the City Council, Deis answered yes.
 
Outside financial Auditor Don Ecker said that there should be an Auditor charter. Resident Al Velasquez requested that a member of the public be on the RFP evaluation panel.

Stay tuned!
 

“Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true.” –Julius Caesar

 
 
 
Part I article:

Whistleblowers in Oxnard: Triumph & Tragedy- Part 1

Whistleblowers in Oxnard: Triumph & Tragedy- Part 1by Kevin Harris “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”… James A. Garfield We live in interesting and, some would say, exciting times. While national politics has taken bizarre, theatrical turns that few could have predicted even a few years ago, in the seaside city of Oxnard, the ongoing […]

 


Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, and previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks 

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