2017-07-14 / Community

County pushes back against proposed law aimed at private contracts

Officials say bill adds layer of red tape
By Melissa Simon

A proposed bill that aims to place stricter controls on dealings between county governments and private contractors could result in higher costs and fewer vital services for Ventura County residents, local officials said.

Authored by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Bill 1250 would require county governments to conduct cost analyses to prove that each contract it enters into—such as those for social services, public safety and cybersecurity—will save money and not result in job losses for county workers, according to the bill’s text.

In addition, any contract exceeding $100,000 would have to be audited annually at the expense of the contractor. The companies holding those agreements would also have to report salaries for their five highest-paid employees, as well as any administrative or court complaints and indictments.

Jones-Sawyer said he drew from his 25-year career of working on contracts for the City of Los Angeles when he wrote AB 1250, which was introduced Feb. 17 and is now in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

“(AB 1250) is all about transparency, reporting costs and holding these contractors accountable— something I don’t think is restrictive,” Jones-Sawyer told the Acorn this week. “Taxpayers want us (as elected officials) to be good stewards of their money, and this bill is one way to do that by ensuring what we contract for is very transparent.”

Hugh Riley, executive director of the Ventura Council of Governments—the joint powers authority representing the county and its 10 cities—said the council “vehemently” opposes AB 1250. He argues that, by imposing transparency requirements that are already in place under existing legislation, the bill interferes with the ability of counties to contract for vital services.

“There’s already enough red tape in government, and AB 1250 just creates a whole new level of bureaucracy, burdens and requirements,” Riley said. “Our concern is that this is a move by unions to force local governments to hire union employees instead of allowing the counties to do private contracts. County and local elected officials should be the ones making decisions locally.”

The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, did not respond to several requests for comment as of press time.

The Washington, D.C.-based association consisting of 2 million members in healthcare, government, infrastructure and food service industries is a main sponsor of AB 1250.

‘Chilling effect’

Matt Carroll, an assistant executive officer with Ventura County, said AB 1250 could jeopardize a majority of the county’s professional contracts, including those for social services, mental health, public safety, maintenance and cybersecurity.

Asked to name some of the contractors, Carroll said the “laundry list of providers” is too extensive. But as an example, he said, Ventura County’s two hospitals, 19 primary and 26 specialty clinics rely on nearly 500 professional firms and individual physicians for services.

The fear is that AB 1250 would prevent counties from contracting with such community-based organizations, nonprofits and local providers.

“For certain highly specialized resources, the only way to obtain those is though professional contracts . . . and in many cases it’s significantly less than if county employees provided them,” Carroll said. “It would be very unlikely that we could provide those expertises in-house and be able to staff effectively without reducing services.”

About $440 million, or 20 percent of Ventura County’s $2.2-billion budget this year, is dedicated to paying for private contracts and covers about 1,500 employees, Carroll said.

Jones-Sawyer said his bill is not aimed at preventing the private contracts with nonprofits or other community-based organizations, especially those that are doing “an excellent job.”

“I’ve been trying to get the counties to explain why they think (AB 1250) prevents those partnerships, and they haven’t proven that to me,” the assemblyman said. “I’m extremely sensitive to being able to contract with nonprofits, especially when they should be able to showcase their work, and I don’t want to put too much of a burden on counties.”

Still, the “onerous terms” for contractors essentially does prevent those partnerships, said Dorothy Johnson, spokesperson for the California State Association of Counties, which opposes the bill.

“It’s a de facto prohibition be- cause the costs that will fall to the contractors will be so expensive that it will have a chilling effect,” Johnson said. “More than that, these private contracts help to provide services in communities that mistrust the government and otherwise wouldn’t seek help.”

Should AB 1250 pass, it’s estimated it will cost the county nearly $1 million annually to hire additional staff to maintain the current level of service.

“When you have a fixed amount of money, you can only cover a certain number of contracts,” Carroll said. “The bottom line is that increased costs mean less services if we aren’t able to contract in the cost-effective manner that we do now.”

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