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Media Coverage
Council Decides To Extend Inquiry
October 2, 1998



Friday, October 2, 1998
Section: news
Page: A09
Shawn Masten and David Ferris

RICHMOND - Tuesday was supposed to bring closure to a 2 1/2-month investigation of possible corruption in the Richmond Recreation and Parks Department. Instead it brought more questions and a unanimous vote by the City Council to continue a financial probe into allegations of kickbacks, bribes and nepotism

A team of investigators presented its final report on the probe of the department, particularly the Richmond auditorium. But council members, concerned about loose ends in the investigation, voted to extend it at least two weeks.

"We consider this very serious," Mayor Rosemary Corbin said Wednesday. "We're very concerned, and we want to get to the bottom of this."

Investigators have been looking into possible corruption and financial wrongdoing in the department since the July resignation of former manager Brad Baxter. City officials say Baxter was asked to resign for falsely claiming to have a master's degree on his job application. Baxter claims that he was forced to resign for trying to uncover financial mismanagement by present and former employees and for his discipline of Bette Hunter, the wife of City Attorney Malcolm Hunter.

Baxter's accusations spurred investigations of the department by the police, Contra Costa County prosecutors, a Richmond police commission investigator, an independent auditor and the county grand jury.

Council members were reluctant to disclose the nature of their questions or what they learned from investigators at Tuesday's meeting - and city officials have declined to release investigators' reports to the Times. The reports were turned over to the grand jury Wednesday.

Corbin and other council members declined to elaborate for fear that they would jeopardize the investigations. Councilman Tom Butt said the council eventually hopes to reveal all.

"We aren't interested in covering this up," Butt said Wednesday. "We want this department cleaned up."

Corbin said investigators will delve deeper into the financial and business practices of the 3,700-seat auditorium and allegations of favoritism and nepotism in the department. Most of the council's questions were sparked by reports by Dale Stephens, the auditor, and by Police Commission Investigator Don Casimere, she said.

"There are loose ends," Corbin said.

Among them may be key financial documents relating to revenue from at least seven concerts held at the auditorium in 1995 and 1996. The documents, which should have been included in records turned over to investigators, are missing. That fact was included in the report made by investigators Tuesday.

The extended probe is expected to take a couple of weeks and likely will focus on big-name events held at the auditorium in the mid-1990s and personnel issues related to the resignation of Baxter. Councilwoman Irma Anderson said she hopes the investigations are speedy.

"The fact that we don't bring it to closure can be very injurious to the morale of the city staff and the functioning of the city."

The council next week is expected to approve a $30,000 contract with Stephens to help implement recommendations made in his audit for cleaning up the department's finances. The city would not reveal the nature of the recommendations.

But Stephens' contract calls for him to train staff members and to create a better system of checks and balances for handling city money.

Baxter, in a settlement offered to the city early in September, said he was the victim of racial discrimination and was retaliated against for disciplining his workers and uncovering financial misconduct.

He has asked for his job back and for $300,000 in compensation for damage to his reputation and for emotional distress.

Tuesday's meeting produced no council decision on the offer, but a subcommittee of council members will find an outside attorney to review it.