After a false start in November, the county seems to be proceeding with its whistleblower guidelines, officially called the "internal controls/fraud prevention initiative,” proposed by Supervisor Dave Pine.
As you may remember, Pine's proposal was put on hold by Supervisor Don Horsley, who said he wasn't sure it was necessary. However, the two have worked on a subcommittee together and have hammered out a few details to ease its passage when it comes back to the board likely next month.
Originally, the cost was ballparked to be $262,000 to start it up and about $70,000 a year annually. According to Pine, that has been scaled back and is now up to $45,400 in one-time costs. Essentially, the proposal will consolidate guidelines and procedures for reporting suspected fraud, waste and abuse into a single web-based point, retain a vendor to provide an independent hotline and implement continuous employee training. Two other components that would have added cost have been dropped from the proposal, but Pine said will likely still be pursued by the controller's office and funded from that office. One is an expansion of analysis software that can identify unusual financial activities and a one-time independent evaluation of the controller's internal audit division to implement best practices.
San Mateo County has had a significant number of fraud and embezzlement in the last two years, most notably with the Mosquito and Vector Control District, the Public Administrator division of the District Attorney's Office and the Portola Valley School District. While this initiative will not cure all ills, it's certainly a step in the right direction.
"It's an inexpensive way to encourage more whistleblowing, that's a good thing,” Pine said. "There are too many problems, too much fraud in the public sector in San Mateo County. It's time to tighten up the processes.”
Once this is up and running in the county, my hope is that it is something that can be shared with smaller districts in the county and even cities so future fraud and embezzlement can be caught early and even prevented.
The Macedonia Church of God in Christ has been providing food as part of its pantry program to those in need in North Central San Mateo for the past few years.
It's a critical program for the neighborhood and draws about 200 people a week when it opens its back door every Tuesday to hand out fresh, canned and packaged food to anyone who meets certain requirements and signs up. It started with a few single mothers at the congregation saying that they had issues with providing their children with enough nutrition. Second Harvest Food bank provides most of the food, but they are able to get more through local grocers when it is available. It has since grown into a regular safety net for many, especially in this time of need.
So it was particularly distressing when church officials discovered that someone had broken into their storage shed two Fridays ago and stole six cases of canned goods.
"It was all gone, wiped out,” said Deacon Victor Morton.
The church did not file a police report but decided they needed a more secure way to store the food they regularly give away. They are looking to buy a sturdy Tuff Shed storage unit that locks and a steel security door for the church itself. The cost is about $800, and Morton is hoping a local service organization steps up with a donation that will cover the cost.
There are a number of service organizations in the area, including Rotary, the Lions Club and the Elks Club that could make a meaningful donation that would help this church continue to provide a much-needed service to the community.
To donate or for more information contact Morton at (650) 704-7985 or email him at email@example.com.
Former San Mateo mayor Claire Mack will read from her new novel "Sister Samms and Sister Johnson, the Neighborhood” 7 p.m. tonight at 611 S. B St. in San Mateo. If you know Claire, you know it will be worth checking out. If you don't know Claire, here's your chance.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.