Ken Leighton 12:30 p.m., Oct. 21
County Office of Education hit with warning letter over travel freebies
Long running state political watchdog's investigation of controversial conduct of education office ends with a whimper as agency told not to break law again
The San Diego County Office of Education has long been a troubled patch on the corpus of local government.
As reported here in February 2010 by Dorian Hargrove, whistleblower Roger Hartnett has spent years in a legal battle with the office over the big fees it has paid outside law firms with inside ties to the agency.
A related controversy spun off this year in the form of a fight between one of the education office's well compensated law firms and a local blogger over her write-ups about the lawyers' conduct.
The state's Fair Political Practices Commission got involved in the form of an investigation it launched into allegedly unreported travel freebies received by certain administrators.
It's been a long time coming, but in a September 25 letter to county office of education staffer Pam Giles, FPPC counsel Milad Dalju announced the results:
The FPPC has completed its investigation into the facts of this case and found that the SDCOE failed to disclose three reportable gifts to the agency totaling approximately $1300 it received in 2008.
Specifically, the SDCOE received funds from vendors to help pay for travel and necessary accommodation expenses that the SDCOE incurred due to sending its employees out-of-town for official agency business related to the particular vendor.
In all three instances, the vendor paid the SDCOE prior to the time that SDCOE's Assistant Superintendent of Business Services choose (sic) which employee would be required to attend each out-of-town event.
The payments were controlled by the SDCOE, and the vendors did not earmark which employee would he required to attend each out-of-town event.
Therefore the gifts were to the agency and not to the particular employees whose travel expenses were reimbursed by the SDCOE with funds received from the vendors.
Despite the violations, Dalju said the state was waiving any penalties.
We have decided to close this case with a warning letter, rather than a fine, because the SDCOE cooperated with our investigation and has updated its procedures so that gifts to the agency are timely disclosed.
This letter serves as a written warning. The information in this matter will be retained and may be considered should an enforcement action become necessary based on newly discovered information or future conduct.
Failure to comply with the provisions of the Act in the future will result in monetary penalties of up to S5000 for each violation.
No further description of the travel freebies or gift givers was provided in the Dalju's letter.