|Agency Will Be Probed
July 23, 1998
WEST COUNTY TIMES
* RICHMOND POLICE WILL INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS OF FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT WITHIN THE RECREATION DEPARTMENT
Thursday, July 23, 1998
RICHMOND The city will investigate allegations of financial misconduct within its Recreation and Cultural Services Department.
City Manager Isiah Turner made the announcement at Tuesday's City Council meeting and said the Richmond Police Department would conduct the probe.
"We have some allegations that there might be some mismanagement and possible criminal theft that has occurred over a long period of time at the Richmond auditorium," Police Chief William Lansdowne said Wednesday.
Turner said the investigation was prompted by allegations made by the agency's former manager, Brad Baxter, that were published in the Sunday Times.
Baxter resigned as department chief Friday, after he was accused by city officials of falsifying his resume. But in the story published Sunday, Baxter claimed he was a scapegoat who was forced out for uncovering financial improprieties at the department including kickbacks at the Richmond auditorium, theft of city funds and nepotism.
Turner said he did not know of the allegations until he read about them in the newspaper.
"Nobody ever talked to me about that," Turner said Wednesday.
The city's investigation is expected to take two weeks. Turner said the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office will be asked today to assist in the probe. Finance Director Marla Taylor, Human Resources Director Marva Wallace and Assistant City Manager Leveron Bryant also may help.
Investigators will interview past and present employees and people who have rented the auditorium. Contracts and receipts for auditorium functions also will be examined, Lansdowne said.
The decision to launch the investigation was made during a closed session of the City Council on Tuesday. According to several people who attended the meeting, city leaders argued heatedly over who should lead the inquiry. Council members Tom Butt and Donna Powers said they were wary of an internal investigation and proposed that the job be done by outsiders.
"These are people who work together. They know each other. They know that they're going to be working together in the future, unless somebody goes to jail," Butt said Wednesday. "I just can't believe in my heart they can do that objectively. It has nothing to do with the integrity of the city manager and the police chief."
But Turner threatened to quit if outsiders were called in.
"I told them I was going to quit if they felt that I was not handling this right. That I didn't want anybody on there questioning my integrity," Turner said.
"The whole thing stunk to high heaven," said Powers on Wednesday. She stormed out of the meeting before the 6-2 vote in favor of the internal investigation.
Baxter resigned under protest at 5 p.m. Friday after Turner and personnel officials accused him of falsely claiming a master's degree on his job application.
But Public Works Director Henry Tingle, who in his former role as deputy city manager hired Baxter, said he knew Baxter hadn't completed his master's degree when he hired him.
On his job application form, a copy of which was obtained by the Times, Baxter wrote that he had completed a master's degree in public administration from University of Utah in 1993.
But on the resume he submitted with the application, also obtained by the Times, Baxter explained he had completed all the coursework for the master's degree but had yet to finish writing his thesis. Under the education category on his resume, he wrote, "course work complete, thesis in review." He also attached transcripts from both universities he attended.
Baxter said he took some time away from his thesis to work as a personnel officer in the Air Force.
"The way I look at this, it's not a slam dunk," Butt said. "The city is saying, I don't care what Baxter told us or Tingle or anyone else, his application has to stand alone because he signed it under penalty of perjury.' But all the stuff is there showing he hasn't finished his master's. It's disturbing because on the face of it, it appears that this isn't enough reason to fire someone."
By all indications, Baxter's superiors liked his work.
A copy of Baxter's six-month performance review shows he was judged "fully competent" in four of six areas, and "commendable" in the remaining two working relationships and quality-quantity of work.
During his 10-month tenure, he ended the costly practice of letting promoters use the Richmond auditorium for free.
The day before his removal, he tried to save his job by claiming protection under the state and federal Whistle Blower Program. Baxter sent a memo to the assistant city attorney saying his investigations into employee graft were creating a hostile work environment, and he may need help saving his job, according to documents obtained by the Times.
Under that program created in 1980, state workers who see "improper governmental activity" abuses can remain anonymous by calling a hotline or writing to the Auditor General's Office. State law requires the auditor to investigate complaints.
A day after his removal, Baxter met with attorneys who are preparing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, Baxter said.
"It will be filed within the week," he said.