Free Rent, Double Dipping, Cheap Sleeps

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Let's stipulate from the outset that just because there are some bad apples in the state workforce, the whole cart isn't full of mushy fruit. There are no doubt tens of thousands of government employees who work hard and follow the rules.

But some appear to have cut some corners... or worse... and State Auditor Elaine Howle is calling them out this morning in another one of her office's page-turning reports entitled "Investigations of Improper Activities By State Employees."

(It's becoming a bit of an unintended CapNotes tradition to write about these whistleblower reports...again and again and, well, again.)

You can read the entire report in PDF format, or check out the executive summary. It's important to note that Howle doesn't name names; the goal of these reports, generated by anonymous tips, is to root out the misdeeds and allow folks to remedy their wrong ways, thus preserving scarce taxpayer dollars.

Now, without further ado...

Mi Casa, Su Casa?

The auditor's report finds that an employee of CSU Northridge allowed a friend to conduct research for the friend's small pharmaceutical company for almost five years, beginning in 2003, free of charge. The business owner/researcher apparently not only used university equipment and supplies, but admitted to the auditors that the time he spent in the CSUN lab led to "developments for which he was able to obtain patents." The report says the CSUN employee didn't inform anyone else at the university, nor go through the appropriate channels -- which would have included the payment of fees to the school. Cost to the state: $20,790. The private business owner has reimbursed those costs in full.

Which Job Am I Currently Working On?

Today's report includes two instances of state workers holding down second jobs and apparently working on those other gigs during state-paid time. In one instance, an inspector for Cal/OSHA spent six years using time and resources for that job to also teach a university safety course and to give presentations at other non-state events. That secondary work was pretty lucrative; the state auditor says the total outside income earned on Cal/OSHA time for the employee over six years was almost $264,000. Those outside activities were supposed to be taken as leave. The audit found the absences were not counted as leave and, to boot, the employee sometimes used her state vehicle. Total cost to taxpayers: $70,105. The audit also blames management for not enforcing the rules. As of last month, the worker had resigned and the agency was in the process of determining how to get the money back.

Meantime, auditor Howle's report found an office supervisor with the California Highway Patrol was operating their own business on state time. Unlike other agencies, though, the CHP reprimanded the employee who was caught working on his own business needs twice... and as a result, the agency demoted him from his supervisorial role.

I'll Take My Usual Room, Please...

The report chronicles the case of an employee with the California Architects Board who not only submitted "fabricated receipts" for $392 worth of lodging and meals, but also then received "substantial discounts" for personal stays at a hotel she frequented for state business -- a violation of state law. The employee in question apparently had been staying at the same hotel on state business for at least 10 years. And when it came time for a family reunion in June 2008, the employee decided to go back to a familiar place -- apparently saying, according to the auditor's report, that "she would receive a great price from the hotel because she brought it so much business." The state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Architects Board, reports it's investigating.

The whistleblower report also lincludes improper gifts accepted by an employee of CSU Channel Islands; psychiatric technicians at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation being assigned to clerical duties instead of patient care; employees at both the Orange County Fair and the Department of Justice who failed to report time taken for leave and thus were paid normal, not vacation, salary; $1840 in gifts given by a vendor doing business with the state Department of Water Resources to an agency supervisor; and improper exemption from state child care licensing regulations of some school programs.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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