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Emails Show NCTD Changed Paperwork After Info Request

Above: The SPRINTER rail line runs between Escondido and Oceanside.

The North County Transit District commissioned a $31,200 study without seeking competitive bids, then changed paperwork and attempted to backdate a new contract after inewsource requested the documentation, emails show.

Timeline of past events:

October 2013: NCTD CEO Matthew Tucker and Human Resources Manager Karen Tucholski meet with Rady School of Management representatives to discuss NCTD’s goals and Rady’s offerings.

November 2013: NCTD staff completes online preliminary assessments for the Rady evaluation.

Dec. 9, 2013: Rady sends NCTD an invoice for $31,200 for the leadership program. The invoice notes a due date of Jan. 9, 2014. There is no contract in place.

Dec. 20, 2013: NCTD staff attends the one-day Rady School of Management program at UCSD.

Jan. 9, 2014: Due date for Rady invoice passes.

Jan. 16 – 29, 2014: Three NCTD managers sign and date the Rady sole source agreement.

Feb. 7, 2014: NCTD pays the Rady School of Management for the service. inewsource submits a Public Records Act request for the Rady scope of work and method of contracting.

The study, conducted by the UCSD Rady School of Management on Dec. 20, 2013, details the strengths and weaknesses of NCTD’s leadership team. When the district refused to release it, inewsource sued last week to obtain it.

The public transit agency did release 28 pages of emails in response to another inewsource request that discuss the study’s initial contract and the attempt to alter it retroactively. In the end, according to the emails, the contract type was changed but the date was not.

NCTD has placed at least one employee in its contract department on administrative leave and brought in an outside investigator to look into the process used to contract with the Rady School of Management.

NCTD would not respond to a list of questions inewsource submitted about the contract changes discussed in the emails.

A Continuing Issue

The Rady School of Management study was not the first time NCTD contracted for services without seeking bids on the work.

In a formal report from September 2012, the private consulting firm SC&H Group observed that the district was using sole-source contracting “without appropriate justification” and possibly as “workarounds” for competitive bidding.

State law requires government agencies to bid out most expensive services, since open competition helps thwart favoritism, fraud and corruption from the acquisition process. But there are exceptions to the law when unique services or specialized skills are required.

The SC&H review cautioned NCTD that awarding too many of these sole-source awards, “may result in increased regulatory scrutiny and potential fines.” After the consultant’s report became public, inewsource examined district contracts and found that NCTD’s manager of marketing and communications had recently awarded an unnecessary $50,000 contract to her former colleagues under a sole-source contract.

NCTD later confirmed the award was “not justifiable” in a report to its board of directors and changed district policy to prevent similar occurrences.

A memo inewsource obtained as part of a Public Records Act request indicates the district “discovered” that the new Rady School of Management contract “had been processed in error as a sole source” on Feb. 10, 2014. It did not say how the “error” was discovered or exactly why it was an “error.”

Current Events

On Feb. 7, a Friday, inewsource submitted a Public Records Act request asking what type of contract NCTD used with Rady.

On Feb. 10, a Monday, at 10:41 a.m., NCTD staff exchanged emails under the subject heading “UCSD — Rady.”

One read:

“There have been a few changes. The sole source is no longer needed.”

Karen Tucholski, NCTD’s Human Resources manager, was told by Fred Knapp, an NCTD management analyst, to scrap the sole-source form — which had already been completed, signed, and used to pay UCSD the $31,200 — and instead use a different method of procurement.

On Feb. 11, Tucholski passed the new form up the ladder for signature. She also sent the Rady agreement to the district’s CEO, Matthew Tucker, to sign and backdate two months. He did not sign the new form. He did sign the agreement but did not backdate.

The next day, on Wednesday, Feb. 12, an employee in the contracts department expressed concern about a public request for information about the still-unfinished paperwork.

“Getting this completed needs to be a top priority,” she wrote to Tucholski. “There has been a PRA [Public Records Act request] for some of this information and the invoice has already been paid based upon the sole source documentation.“

The agency’s own compliance officer, looped into the conversation that day, appeared confused by what was happening.

“Isn’t all of Rady’s work complete?” he wrote to Tucholski that same day. “…I’m not sure I see the value of going through this process.” He then recommended adding a memo to the case file explaining the timing and circumstances of the proposed changes.

According to this month’s board agenda, NCTD is planning to award a $213,000 contract to a different consulting company, called Calyptus Consulting Group, for a Rady-like study of its procurement division. The competitively bid contract will result in a detailed report and analysis, which the district plans to keep confidential as “attorney-work product.”

Brad Racino is a multimedia reporter for inewsource, a media partner of KPBS. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email bradracino@inewsource.org or call (619) 594-3569.

This story has been updated to clarify which document was requested to be backdated.

Comments

Avatar for user 'northcountyvoter'

northcountyvoter | March 27, 2014 at 4:04 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Cover-up, cover-up, cover-up! Trying to back-date documents. Changing records after receiving a public records request. Claiming that a consultant's study of procurement is "attorney-work product"? Outrageous!

There is quite a stench of cover-up and corruption at NCTD.

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Avatar for user 'alexw'

alexw | March 27, 2014 at 4:19 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Let me get this straight. After spending millions of dollars while the Sprinter was shut down for months, NCTD thought it was a good idea to spend $32,000 on "leadership" training for just 13 employees?

And after spending the $32,000 in taxpayer money NCTD wants to keep the report secret?

There seems to be a consistent pattern of NCTD trying to hide information from the public.

Taxpayers should not be forced to sue public agencies to get them to turn over records. Shame on NCTD and its board!

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Avatar for user 'NCTDisTuckeredOut'

NCTDisTuckeredOut | March 27, 2014 at 8:41 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Bill Horn is the Chairman of the NCTD Board. What kind of corrupt practices does he encourage? Lori Winfree came from the County of San Diego to become NCTD's General Counsel in 2013. She promptly slashed the email retention period from 2 years to 60 days. Bruce Petrozza came from the County to become NCTD's Chief of Procurement in 2013. He supervised this debacle, changing documents and altering records after NCTD received a public records request.

This mess has Bill Horn's flabby fingerprints all over it. If Bill Horn had his way, all of NCTD's public records would vanish into fat air.

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Avatar for user 'TuckerMustGo'

TuckerMustGo | March 27, 2014 at 9:38 p.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

There is no excuse and no explanation for this sequence of events. The training session was conducted in December. The full amount of $31,200 was paid on February 7. That same day, NCTD received a public records request. Four days later, on February 11, HR Manager Karen Tucholski asks Matt Tucker to sign the contract and backdate it 2 months to December. Keep in mind, the contract is being signed after the training has been conducted, and after the full amount has been paid! Anyone with any knowledge of business knows this is completely backwards! What is the point of signing a contract after the full amount has already been paid? This is obvious manipulation of the records, and shame on Karen Tucholski for trying to falsify public records! What discipline has she received?

And what was Matt Tucker's reaction to Tucholski's request to falsify records? Has he investigated her or placed her on administrative leave? Apparently not.

It looks like the Attorney General or the Grand Jury should take a hard look at Matt Tucker and NCTD.

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Avatar for user 'Appalled'

Appalled | March 28, 2014 at 8:09 a.m. ― 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The last paragraph of this article is shocking. NCTD plans to spend $213,000 on a consulting report, and will keep the entire report confidential as attorney work product? This arrogance shows total contempt for public accountability and transparency. Has the NCTD Board forgotten that they are accountable to the voters, and not to Mr. Tucker? Maybe all of the Board members should resign, and give their jobs to replacements who will actually provide public oversight over this out-of-control agency.

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Avatar for user 'sadsituation'

sadsituation | March 29, 2014 at 3:22 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I just read this article and am once again flabbergasted over the corruption being allowed to run rampant inside NCTD. It is obvious that the Human Resources Manager, Karen Tucholski, had never worked for a public agency before she came to NCTD. Imagine... Recommending that the leadership training contract signatures be backdated! Well, I imagine Ms. Tucholski's days are numbered now. Tucker doesn't let too many employees make it to their 5-year pension vesting before he cuts them loose. She should be no exception! And that new Chief of Procurement, Bruce Petrozza, had better be held accountable for this cover-up as well. He knew (or should have known) this was all happening.

As for Tucker himself, I'm convinced he has something on the Board members, which is why he hasn't been given the old heave-ho in these past 5.25 painful years. Well, at least there is some consolation in knowing that he's now perceived as "damaged goods" by many in the transit industry. It appears he's gone as far as he can go in his career. At this point, it is likely the Board members feel sorry for him, and they don't know how to get out of the quagmire they created by hiring him. Wish they would simply buy out his contract and bring in a strong leader temporarily to calm the troubled seas while they search for a much more competent replacement. I agree with the previous commenter who said a Grand Jury investigation would be prudent into all the cover-ups and mis-management allowed at NCTD over the past several years.

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Avatar for user 'tuckerisamess'

tuckerisamess | June 13, 2014 at 4:17 p.m. ― 3 months ago

In the private sector, anyone caught falsifying purchasing documents would be fired. How do Karen Tucholski and Bruce Petrozza still have their jobs?

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