L.A. Community College Chose a Watch Dog, Christine Marez, With Ties to Construction Supervisor She Was Supposed to Watch
An audit by L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel released today found a dumb if not outright shady selection process for an inspector general who happened to have ties to a construction firm accused of shoddy on-campus workmanship and even fraud.
In other words, the watchdog had ties to those whom it was supposed to be watching. Cozy for them, but maybe not so good for the taxpayer:
The district is undergoing a nearly $6 billion "rebuilding program" that has seen $450 million of that go toward development at the Mission College in Sylmar, where poor oversight and even falsified documentation has been alleged.
The company hired to supervise all the building? Gateway Science and Engineering, owned by the politically connected Art Gastelum. Who's keeping an eye on that company for the district you own? Inspector general Christine Marez and her company, Policy Masters, Inc.
Turns out Marez worked for Gateway from 1998 to 2003. Like we said, cozy. According to the audit:
.. the president of Policy Masters, Inc. had previously worked for Gateway Science and Engineering, Inc., a company that had been contracting with the District for several years to oversee bond-funded construction work, was not disclosed or addressed in the process as a potential conflict of interest for an Office of Inspector General that would be auditing and investigating that firm's work.
How was she chosen? Ah. Here's where Greuel comes in:
In 2010, after some of the allegations of shoddy work and mismanagement surfaced, the district decided to choose an inspector general. It set forth guidelines (a "request for proposal") that were apparently ignored when trustees finally made their choice. According to a statement from Greuel's office:
Policy Masters, Inc was selected for the contract, despite not having experience in directing audits and investigations or a work history as a firm, as required by the Request for Proposal.
... The District failed to actively vet potential conflicts of interest.
Yep. According the audit, Policy Masters wasn't even certified to do inspector general work:
... Policy Masters Inc., provided team experience in financial and compliance auditing but did not provide qualifications or experience in investigations or performance or operational auditing.
Other frms that apparently met qualifications and scored high in the vetting process for the inspector general were ignored, Greuel concluded.
The audit parallels a similar inquiry by state Controller John Chiang. The district attorney is also looking into the situation.
Greuel, of course, wants the district to straighten up and revise its policies and procedures so associates of its contractors aren't paid big money to watch them on behalf of taxpayers.
Some of the District's actions are very troubling. Everyone needs to play by the rules and clearly deviations from the procedures hampered the competitive bidding process.