We would all be shocked and appalled - except that this is 2011 and way many government shenanigans have come down the pike. Even so, the LAT stories on the Community College District sure took my breath away. The level of institutional corruption is captured in the opening paragraphs of the series:
The effects of decades of neglect were all too visible at the nine far-flung campuses. Roofs leaked. Furniture was decrepit. Seismic protections were outdated. In 2001, leaders of the Los Angeles Community College District decided to take action. With support from construction companies and labor unions, they persuaded voters to pass a series of bond measures over the next seven years that raised $5.7 billion to rebuild every campus. The money would ease classroom crowding. It would make college buildings safer. New technology would enhance learning. And financial oversight would be stringent. That is what was promised to Los Angeles voters. The reality? Tens of millions of dollars have gone to waste because of poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy workmanship, a Times investigation found.
Today's installment focuses on "body shops," the two dozen contractors with political ties to the district's board of trustees. They are paid to be employers of record for folks who do work that's connected to the construction.
When district officials hire someone for the construction program, URS Corp., the San Francisco company that manages the program day to day, puts the new employee on the payroll of a subcontractor like TBI. Each month, the subcontractor submits a bill for the employee's salary, adding a markup intended to cover the cost of health benefits, worker's compensation insurance, office rent and other overhead and provide a margin for profit. Then URS or another prime contractor adds a smaller markup of its own. The combined markups often double -- in some cases triple -- the cost of employing staff members. The money comes from bonds sold to finance the program. Taxpayers will be paying the debt, with interest, for at least 40 years.
Why can't employers be hired by the district directly? Something about civil service rules (though such rules have not deterred other college districts from putting construction staff on their payrolls). The degree of corruption is truly remarkable.
Amy Yeager, a former aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, sought grants for the college district in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. She was paid $115,000 a year, but her work cost taxpayers $305,000 a year once URS and subcontractor SASM Consulting collected overhead and profit, records show. A niece and a nephew of district trustee Sylvia Scott-Hayes also found jobs on the program. The niece, Monica Ramirez, was hired as a project coordinator in 2009. Records show that the district authorized a subcontractor, ECM Group, to pay her at an annual rate of $65,000 to start and that markups for ECM and another contractor pushed the total cost to $179,000 a year. The trustee's nephew, Rick Ramirez, was paid $100,000 over 20 months in a public relations job, records show. After his employer, Seville Construction Services, and URS added markups, it cost taxpayers $292,000 to employ him, according to the records.
Such government flimflam is hardy new and hardly limited to Los Angeles. But it does speak volumes about the systemic deceptions that get played out with impunity. This is a long series and the Community College District is not a headline-grabbing topic. But it is worth your attention.