FPPC Investigates Ex-DMV Staff

DEC. 29, 2010


It’s always fun to watch one government agency investigate another agency. Or, recently departed agency personnel, as in this case, which popped up about two weeks ago. On Dec. 14, the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) opened an investigation into 10 ex-state Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) employees for failing to file mandatory conflict of interest disclosure forms, according to documents posted on the FPPC website.

At first glance, this would seem to be a mere paperwork squabble – bureaucratic shuffling gone haywire. Except that the documents in question that the 10 employees failed to file are among the most important any state worker fills out, and the fines they face for apparently ignoring repeated pleas to file the forms are steep, to say the least.

The 10 former employees (who though named in FPPC documents like this one, have redacted addresses and are scattered across the state, which made it impossible for CalWatchdog to contact by press time) ranged in status from investigator and analyst to Manager V. Since they worked in “positions of trust,” they must file conflict of interest documents with their former employer. They initially received written notifications that they needed to file their Statements of Economic Interest from DMV Conflict of Interest Coordinator Ana McKee (who would not comment for this story) between November 2009 and June of this year. Three months later, they all received additional written notices from McKee. When they still hadn’t filed 45 days after that, McKee tossed the whole affair to the FPPC.

“It happens all the time,” FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said when asked how often the FPPC has to chase state employees who don’t file the statements, which outline what they own, as well as what gifts they’ve received in the last year, and are useful in determining whether they involve themselves in conflicts of interest. In this case, the 10 former employees failed to file statements upon their leaving the DMV, which is also mandatory.

According to Porter, each agency’s compliance officer (in this case, McKee) has the option of fining wayward employees $10 a day the form is late, up to a maximum of $100. After at least two notifications are sent out, the compliance officer must kick the case up to the FPPC, which has the option of investigating. The commission can then impose a fine of $5,000 per violation, in addition to the $100 from the agency compliance officer.

A DMV spokesman refused to speculate as to why the 10 former staffers apparently ignored McKee’s pleas that they file their conflict of interest forms. “The DMV cannot speculate as to why they failed to file their forms,” DMV spokesman Steve Haskins e-mailed on Dec. 28. “The FPPC will decide what happens next. The DMV has no role in that process.”

Of course, the FPPC will waive fines if it’s shown the staffers didn’t file because of their involvement in an accident, hospitalization, medical incapacitation or if the records are destroyed in a fire or flood, assuming the staffer can provide “adequate documentation” of said disaster. Excuses that the FPPC won’t accept (but sometimes hears) include vacations, the staffer’s spouse or assistant failed to file, the staffer needs additional time or “professional assistance” or (my personal favorite) “Form was accidentally misplaced on desk, home or in vehicle.”

For his part, Haskins also bristled at the FPPC’s use of the term “investigation.” “The ‘investigation,’ if that is how FPPC is framing their process, now has nothing to do with the DMV,” Haskins said. “The DMV followed the law by notifying the former employees of their reporting obligations. The FPPC will determine the outcome of the ‘investigation.’”

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