By Wendy Lack
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has notified the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) of its investigation of complaints relating to Measure X, a county sales tax measure that appeared on Contra Costa’s November 2016 ballot. Allegations include use of public funds to advocate passage of the tax and staff politicking during work hours.
State law restricts political activities of local government employees and prohibits political activities during work hours. In addition, federal law restricts political activities for employees who work for agencies receiving federal funds, as does CCTA.
FPPC rules prohibit public agencies from taking sides in a ballot measure campaign after it’s placed on the ballot or using agency funds for politicking. Specifically, state law requires any governmental agency engaged in campaign activity to report contributions and expenditures if the agency qualifies as a campaign committee. Further, an opinion from the state attorney general states that a public agency “may not use public funds to hire a consultant to develop a strategy for building support” for a tax measure.
In October 2016 the FPPC received a complaint from Contra Costa resident Wendy Lack. The complaint questions use of CCTA funds -- including federal grant monies -- for Measure X campaign-related activities. Specifically, CCTA authorized $3.5 million to pay consultants from Gray-Bowen-Scott to prepare a “Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP)” to support the Measure X ballot measure. The complaint states:
On July 13, 2016, William Gray of Gray-Bowen-Scott established the Yes on X campaign committee, listing himself as its principal officer. On July 20, 2016, the CCTA Board voted to place Measure X on the fall ballot.
CCTA has retained Gray-Bowen-Scott consultants numerous times during the past 30 years. The firm’s website boasts, “We helped the CCTA deliver its original ½ cent sales tax Measure C Program and several of its current Measure J programs.”
The complaint states:
The complaint also identifies questionable political activities of CCTA employees. Public employees may not use their official positions to influence elections. Public statements made by employees are limited to a balanced, objective assessment of ballot measures and must not promote a particular position for or against a measure.
At an August 18, 2016 meeting, CCTA Executive Director Randy Iwasaki and Assistant Executive Director Ross Chittenden advocated endorsement of Measure X by the Contra Costa Democratic Party Central Committee. This meeting was listed on CCTA's official list of public speaking invitations for the Transportation Expenditure Plan, which indicates that Iwasaki and Chittenden attended the meeting in their official capacities. The complaint, which includes both a transcript and video recording of that meeting, states:
The complaint also identifies emails between Chittenden and Yes on X political campaign officials and campaign contractors regarding various Yes on X campaign activities, including planning CCTA’s August 18th presentation to the Democratic Party to help secure its endorsement. It is unlawful for public employees to use public resources, including staff time, to engage in political activity while on duty. Any misuse of agency resources that diverts public employees from their assigned duties is prohibited.
Public officials named in the complaint include:
- Randell Iwasaki, Executive Director, Contra Costa Transportation Authority
- Ross Chittenden, Assistant Executive Director, Contra Costa Transportation Authority
- Amy Worth, ex-officio member of Contra Costa Transportation Authority governing board; Commissioner, Metropolitan Transportation Commission; and Member, Orinda City Council
- Doug Linney, Director, East Bay Municipal Utility District
- Alex Evans, Director-Moraga Orinda Fire District
Measure X failed to secure the two-thirds approval required, receiving support from only 63% of voters.
The full complaint, with attachments, is available here.
A copy of the FPPC’s investigation letter, dated April 5, 2017, is available here.