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City Manager's Blog

Dec 28

Report: Purchasing Division Investigations

Posted on December 28, 2018 at 3:51 PM by Thomas Reeves

Back in 2017, the city found an unacceptable practice in its purchasing division and, after a series of investigations and process improvements, I’m sharing what is being done to avoid this practice from ever occurring again.  

In a nutshell, over multiple years, different city employees, holding different titles and responsibilities, allowed for a practice of augmenting contracts without required city council approval, which became a repeated chain of events.  

That conduct was unprofessional, irresponsible, and significantly undermined the public confidence in staff, the council, and the city.  In addition to the outright deceptive actions involved in cases where agreements went above council-approved dates and amounts, historical practices and culture created a “Don’t see, don’t tell” attitude, and resulted in employees not taking ownership for the organization.  

City leadership – mostly new at this point – tackled this issue head-on and engaged in a massive review of what occurred and how it will be corrected.  What started as a general review of a limited number of contracts quickly became a much more detailed examination of our processes, and over a thousand additional agreements.  

We hired a team of experts to help with the review and investigation into the city’s purchasing practices to determine how this occurred.  Public Management Group was hired as the project lead and reviewed the city’s internal practices and culture; Hudson Henderson was hired as external auditors to audit the city’s systems; and Armistead Research and Investigative Services was hired to conduct an internal personnel investigation.  

These types of investigations are never fun and always intrusive, and yet, by design, they are a necessary step in the evolution of any organization.  We’re sharing the entire collection of reports below for your review.  We want the community to know what happened and how we’re growing.  At the end of the day, let it be said of this city, it’s not what we did, but how we learned from it, and what we did to ensure it never happens again.

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Dec 20

Two New Faces on the City Leadership Team

Posted on December 20, 2018 at 11:47 AM by Thomas Reeves

I’m excited to announce the appointment of Scotty Douglass and Caluha Barnes, who will be joining the city’s leadership team as Deputy City Managers.  After an extensive nationwide search, these two candidates rose to the top and have signaled their intent to call the City of Modesto home.  

Following Scotty’s military experience, he began his career in public service by working for the City of Santa Cruz as a Police Dispatcher.  The 15 years that Scotty worked at Santa Cruz Regional 9-1-1 afforded him the opportunity to serve in many positions, including with information technology management, human resources, risk management, finance, capital projects, and public safety.  This center provides emergency dispatch and technology services to five cities and two counties (Santa Cruz and San Benito).  Prior to leaving this agency, Scotty facilitated a consolidation of dispatch services from San Benito County into the Santa Cruz dispatch center.  This remains the first and only cross-county local government dispatch consolidation in the State of California, saving the County of San Benito and City of Hollister close to $500,000 annually, and increasing the 911 center’s revenue by $350,000.

Scotty joined Stanislaus Regional 9-1-1 (SR911) Joint Powers Authority as the Executive Director in mid-2016.  At this agency, he was responsible for all aspects of the organization that provides emergency dispatch and public safety technology services to all agencies within Stanislaus County.  Recently, he was given an opportunity at the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency (SASA) as Interim Executive Director, a role he has used to begin a strategic visioning process to be used in the development of a robust business plan.  While overseeing both agencies, Scotty has been responsible for over 90 employees and a combined budget of over $13 million.

Scotty has a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in leadership.  

Caluha Barnes has more than 25 years of experience in the public sector and has worked at every level of government – federal, state, county, city and special district.  A significant part of that time has been in administrative management, budget development and oversight, organizational change management, and process improvement. 

Most recently, Caluha served at the City of Santa Rosa as Director of Community Engagement, where she was charged with implementing recommendations of a Mayor’s Task Force on Open Government.  The Department also staffs a 14-member Charter-directed Community Advisory Board for which she launched the first strategic planning process since the Board’s inception in 2002.  In July of 2018, Caluha assumed the additional responsibility for the Recreation and Parks Department as the Interim Director.

Prior to the experience with the City of Santa Rosa, Caluha held several posts with Sonoma County, first as Administrative Services Director for the Health Services Department, where her responsibilities included human resources, labor relations, and fiscal operations, then as Principal Administrative Analyst, with a departmental portfolio of internal service departments.

For the State of Georgia, Caluha was the Director of Administration for the Secretary of State’s Office where she oversaw human resources, budget development, accounting, payroll, purchasing, supplies and inventory management.  In the state’s Healthcare Licensing Division, Caluha was the Executive Director and principal advisor to seven state licensing boards where she identified and implemented operational improvements, and staffed seven licensing boards in the regulation of over 30,000 licensees.

Caluha holds a master’s degree in public administration.  
In their roles as Deputy City Manager, Scotty and Caluha will act as liaisons to the City Council for many of the high-profile projects from city departments.  Scotty will also act as a critical resource on the city’s performance management, while Caluha will provide oversight on the Strategic Plan and homeless program.  

Both will start on January 8.  Please join me in welcoming them to the team.
Dec 07

What's Next for Beard Brook Park and Modesto's Homeless?

Posted on December 7, 2018 at 4:40 PM by Thomas Reeves

Short-Term Homeless Stabilization Plan

Beard Brook Park
As a result of the Federal Ninth Circuit Court ruling, the Senior Executive Team for the City of Modesto made an executive decision to allow for camping at Beard Brook Park as a temporary solution in September.  Following this decision, the homeless community has gradually increased at the Park. 

Despite some significant benefits that this has provided to the homeless population, service providers, and the community at-large, this strategy was always intended to be the first step in a short-term plan, and is now being restructured.  Here's why:
  • Since September, the population has grown to over 400 people, including approximately 17 children
  • Calls for police and fire service have gradually increased at the park
  • Public health concerns related to hygiene and weather
  • Current camping location at Beard Brook Park is on a slope and is subject to rain runoff
  • Fire-related and air quality concerns
I'm pleased to announce a package of efforts underway to start a new chapter in providing for the homeless.  With Stanislaus County as a critical partner in this endeavor, next week begins a new series of actions aimed at tackling homelessness head-on.  Together, we're bringing the homeless issue from the backyard to the front yard.  

Tuolumne River Regional Park Gateway Parcel Homeless Camp
The city is recommending relocating the homeless community several hundred feet into the Tuolumne River Regional Park Gateway area that is larger and flatter (and closer to a bridge for minimal shelter, I might add). 

The relocation would be supported with weather-proof uniformed tents, additional support from Turning Point (more on Turning Point later) to manage the area as a shelter, outreach and engagement services from the County, and the development of fundraising strategies for continuous support for the homeless community.  

The goal for this outdoor location is to serve as a temporary alternative to the shelters that are being explored by the City and the County; and to support the County and homeless service providers in identifying each individual to assess their situation and provide daily case management services to help break the cycle of homelessness. 

Turning Point
One thing we've learned through this process of allowing camping at the park is we need a full-time partner who can more closely monitor the organization of the camp, including donations, which we know is so important to our community.  The County will be entering into an agreement with the Turning Point organization to provide the following services:
  • Coordination of safety and security
  • Coordination of volunteerism and donations
  • Supportive services such as case management
  • Rehabilitative opportunities to support the transition out of homelessness
Donations for Beard Brook Park Homeless
To address the issues and needs of the homeless population at the park, efforts, resources, and partnerships beyond what government can provide will be required.  In addition to mobilizing the community to support the site improvements and operations, the United Way has agreed to accept fiscal donations from the community to provide basic needs supplies. 

While not ready just yet, financial donations will be promoted and directed to the United Way to support the operator in purchasing and distributing basic needs supplies.  In addition, Turning Point will establish a donation process for other, tangible/physical donations as needed.  The establishment of both processes will improve the opportunities for the community to effectively and efficiently support individuals staying at the park. 

Focus on Prevention will also engage the community in supporting efforts at the new site, encouraging support and donations towards the established operator.  This will increase the opportunities for community support to be leveraged and maximized to serve homeless community members now and in the near future.

Salvation Army Shelter Expansion

Indoor and Outdoor Expansion
The city is exploring an expansion to the shelter capacity of Salvation Army with approximately 150 additional beds inside and outside the facility footprint.  To support this expansion, the Salvation Army is open to adjusting their shelter guest criteria to ensure that it meets the requirements of a Federal Ninth Circuit Court ruling. 

Access Center 
The homeless access center will be designed to be a one-stop shop for the homeless community to receive wrap-around services.  The County, City of Modesto, and Focus on Prevention partners will be working with Salvation Army to co-locate the service providers that will establish the 9th & D Street site as the Access Center.  These service providers will include a mix of county, county contractors, and community-based nonprofits. 

Additionally, the Salvation Army facility located on 7th and I Street is for sale, and the County and City are exploring options for purchasing and repurposing this facility as a family shelter. 

Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP)
The state's Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) is a $500 million grant designed to provide direct assistance to cities, counties, and Continuums of Care (CoC) to address the homelessness crisis throughout California.  The Stanislaus Community System of Care (CSOC), is eligible to receive $7,236,985.95 in HEAP funding, and the City of Modesto is eligible to receive the benefits of this funding, upon declaration of a shelter crisis.  

Shelter Crisis
In order for a city to obtain HEAP funding, the city is required to declare a shelter crisis through a resolution adopted by the City Council finding that a “significant number of persons within the jurisdiction are without the ability to obtain shelter, and that it has resulted in a threat to the health and safety of those persons.”  Any jurisdiction that does not declare a shelter crisis is ineligible to be a direct recipient of HEAP funds. 

The Modesto City Council will consider declaring a shelter crisis at the December 11th council meeting.

Downtown Streets Team (DST)
The Downtown Streets Team program aims to end homelessness through workforce training, employment, and employer pipelines.  The DST program provides homeless individuals with volunteer opportunities for beautification projects around the community.  In exchange for volunteer efforts, the DST participants receive weekly stipend cards that cover everything from bus passes, phone service, food, medication, enrollment fees for employment training courses.  If implemented in Modesto, this program will support up to 25 homeless individuals. 

This is another example of an innovative public, private partnership, as the financial burden of this program will be shared by the city, county, the Community Foundation, and other public and private funders.

This, too, will be considered at the Council meeting on December 11th. 

In Closing
The city cannot combat homelessness without relying on the innovative and collaborative efforts by partners such as the county, the Community Foundation, CSOC, United Way, Salvation Army, and many others.  We're presenting a robust package of efforts to the community, and we anticipate learning and retooling plenty along the way to success.  Remember, the ultimate goal is to help break the cycle of homelessness, and your team is prepared to tackle that in many new ways.  

We have an incredibly compassionate community, and I remain encouraged by all those who truly desire to help with this critical issue.  This is how we reimagine government, by harnessing our power to work together, get out of the traditional "government" mindset, and get creative.