Tag Archives: California Department of Justice

California tax board leader urged quick hirings to get state workers better pensions

jerome horton

Jerome Horton: Working hard for the taxpayer…

From Wikipedia: The State Board of Equalization (BOE) is a public agency charged with tax administration and fee collection in the state of California in the United States. The authorities of the Board fell into four broad areas: sales and use taxes, property taxes, special taxes, and acting as an appellate body for franchise and income tax appeals. The BOE is the only publicly elected tax commission in the United States. In June 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation stripping the Board of most of its powers.

Why did Brown do this? Again, from Wikipedia:

Each year, the Board spends at least $3 million on education events where elected member appear before their constituents. In 2016, it was revealed that Board Chairman Jerome Horton had spent $130,000 on designer office furniture, prompting criticism. Horton had been previously criticized over $731,835 in donations his wife’s organizations had accepted from companies with matters before the Board.

In March 2017, an audit by the California Department of Finance revealed missing funds and signs of nepotism, leading to calls for the governor to put the Board under a public trustee. In June 2017, the California Department of Justice began a criminal investigation into the members of the Board.

On June 27, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation stripping the Board of its powers.  The legislation created two new departments controlled by the governor responsible for the Board’s statutory duties, the California Department of Tax Fee Administration and the California Office of Tax Appeals.

The Board still has its constitutional powers to review property tax assessments, insurer tax assessment, alcohol excise tax, and pipeline taxes. The Board will retain 400 employees, with the rest of its 4,800 workers being shifted to the new departments.

Jerome Horton has worked at the BOE for for over 20 years. Guess he has quite the shady background. Read about it here from this 2011 article about him illegally funneling money to a friend.

Par for the course for demorat politicians in California.

From Sacramento Bee (by Adam Ashton): The elected leader of a California tax agency urged its executives to speed hiring for a project in late 2012 so new employees would benefit from more generous pension plans, according to documents obtained by The Bee.

Emails show that Board of Equalization member Jerome Horton wanted the agency to quickly fill positions for a new customer service call center in Culver City during the fall of 2012 before less lucrative pension rules kicked in Jan. 1, 2013.

The documents show that the agency did not have office space for new employees. Horton, who was chairman of the board at the time, nonetheless wanted to bring on new employees for the call center and train them at other sites around Southern California. The agency ultimately hired 25 workers the last week of the year, with some of them assigned to the call center.

During the week of September 2012 that Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pension reform law, Horton wrote an email that read, “I would recommend that we do everything possible to excellerate (sic) our hiring process and assist our team members with retirement plans.”

That email and others were uncovered by auditors at the Department of Finance, who released a report earlier this year describing how elected leaders at the Board Of Equalization intervened in daily decision-making at the tax agency. The audit prompted lawmakers in June to strip the agency of most of its power and almost all of its 4,200 employees.

Until the Legislature gutted it this year, the Board of Equalization managed dozens of tax programs, collected about $60 billion a year in revenue and settled disputes between taxpayers and tax collectors.

The call center in Horton’s district stood out to auditors because they found that the five-member board that managed the agency never voted to open the site. Auditors wrote that Horton was “involved” in its creation and cited the call center as an example of an elected board member overstepping boundaries.

“The practice of individual board members intervening in the daily BOE operating activities creates inconsistencies in operations, breakdowns in centralized processes, and in certain instances result in activities contrary to state law,” the audit said.

Next week, the call center is scheduled to close. The department that the Legislature created to replace the Board of Equalization chose to consolidate the call center’s responsibilities with a larger customer service center in Sacramento.

The last two employees who worked at the Culver City call center will be reassigned to other offices by Monday, Department of Tax and Fee Administration spokesman Paul Cambra said. At some point, the new department plans to add staff at its primary Sacramento call center.

The documents that describe the Culver City call center’s creation shed light on a late 2012 hiring spree at the Board of Equalization, when 25 new employees started their jobs in between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Ten of the hires reported for their first day of work on Dec. 31, 2012, securing the more generous pension plans that were phased out for new state employees a day later. A Board of Equalization spokesman previously told The Bee that several of the New Year’s Eve hires went to work at the Culver City call center.

Hiring spiked throughout California government in the holiday week of 2012, with people beginning public-sector jobs at triple the normal rate for the last week of the year, according to a Bee analysis of records from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. The trend was especially pronounced at the Board of Equalization and at CalPERS.

Brown’s pension reform law rolled back some of the generous incentives lawmakers granted to public workers during the dot-com boom. As a result, public employees who started their jobs after Jan. 1, 2013 have to work seven years longer to retire with a pension that gives them 2 percent of their salary for each year service. Previously, most public employees could get that rate at age 55.

Although the Board of Equalization did not cast a vote on opening the Culver City center, documents show that Horton and the agency advanced it publicly. In November 2012, the agency published a press release announcing a job fair for the customer service center.

“What better gift to receive than a job for the holidays?” his 2012 press release read.

Horton’s messages to Board of Equalization executives in late 2012 show that he knew the agency did not have real estate for the new office. He pitched a proposal to place new workers in other offices for temporary assignments where they could learn from the agency staff members who worked for elected members.

A 2014 Board of Equalization report on the Culver City center said it opened and began taking calls on April 2, 2013.

Horton, who worked for the Board of Equalization for more than 20 years before going into politics, said the agency’s executive team approved the project and discussed its development with board members at different times in 2012.

“Although I have no authority over the hiring, training, or construction process, according to the administration, the agency followed proper protocol and obtained approval from (the state human resources department) to commence the hiring process and authorization to actually hire the employees in question,” he wrote in an email to The Bee.

DCG

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California “snafu” releases personal information of nearly 4,000 gun safety instructors

clerical-error

From Fox News: The private information of thousands of California firearms instructors was accidentally released by the state late last year in response to a journalist’s Freedom of Information request.

The data request was made in August, when a reporter for Southern California Public Radio (KPCC), an NPR affiliate, sought all information on Firearms Safety Certifications available from the California Department of Justice.

The information was released in October, and a clerical error gave the reporter wide access to the personal information of 3,424 firearms instructors — whose dates of birth, driver’s license numbers and California identification numbers were handed over, according to NRA-ILA, the legislative arm of the National Rifle Association.

The error was caught two months later, and the California DOJ sent out a letter to all of the Golden State’s instructors letting them know their personal information had been compromised.

“The Department discovered the data breach on October 17, 2016, and notified the requestor of the error and asked that the information be destroyed and that no further dissemination of it occur,” said the letter, sent by the Office of the Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris is now a U.S. senator.

The letter also recommended the firearm instructors place a fraud alert on their credit. Since driver’s license numbers are appealing to identity thieves, a fraud alert could prevent criminals from misusing someone’s personal data.

NRA officials blasted the California DOJ for its data breach and questioned why it took the department so long to alert the thousands who were affected. “This privacy breach is just another example of the California Department of Justice’s disregard for the rights of gun owners,” Jennifer Baker, director of public affairs for the NRA, said to FoxNews.com.  “There’s no reason why the private information of firearms instructors should have been released – the DOJ redacts information all the time.”

Baker also questioned the length of time it took the state to inform victims of the breach.  “It’s time the California government start awarding gun owners the same respect as it does non-gun owners.”

Some security experts said that while it wasn’t a significant data breach, there is still cause for concern. “The main concern, if any, would be identity theft, simply because it is so prevalent,” police consultant and retired Los Angeles Police Lt. Raymond Foster said to FoxNews.com. “I don’t think anyone would threaten these instructors, but one concern is that many of them are retired police officers and that could put them at an additional risk. Most of them when they are off-duty like to lie low and blend in. But I’d imagine that NPR would never publish this info and would likely just rip it up.”

The reporter, who the NRA-ILA identifies as Aaron Mendelson, acknowledged in his FOIA request that part of his request would be redacted. “…Please inform me of the redaction and the legal justification for it,” said the request, which was obtained by FoxNews.com.

Since receiving the data, it appears that none of the information has been published in any recent stories. In its letter to firearm instructors, the California DOJ said that it had asked the reporter to destroy the information he received and if he did not do so he would face legal action.

Neither Mendelson nor officials for Southern California Public Radio immediately returned calls for comment.

Gun instructors in California took the news of their information being released in stride. Dennis Santiago, an independent gun safety instructor in the Los Angeles area, who received the DOJ letter, told FoxNews.com he at first thought it was a hacking incident. “I was speaking with other instructors at a gun shop about it and they didn’t seem too concerned,” Santiago said. “They took it as being the cost of being in America.”

DCG