FPPC, prison health care receiver work it out

The California Prison Health Care Receivership, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate and the Fair Political Practices Commission have reached an agreement that will avoid a lawsuit over the federal court-appointed receivership’s compliance with state political finance disclosure laws.

As first reported here last week, the FPPC – responsible for making sure all agencies in California have conflict-of-interest codes defining which of their employees must file the “Form 700” statement of economic interests, and how much must be disclosed on that form – was turning up the heat on receiver J. Clark Kelso, who runs the prison health system at the behest of Senior U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson

Henderson ruled years ago that California had failed to clean up decades-old neglect and abuse that amounted to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Kelso files detailed reports on his work to Henderson periodically, even as he’s gotten into a series of dustups with state officials over the limits of his authority.

Most receivership staffers already file the same Form 700 that’s required of all state decision-makers to ensure they affected by personal interests when they make public policy. This dispute was over a Construction Oversight Advisory Board and a Rehabilitation Services Advisory Council, the former of which met twice, the latter never; Kelso said these bodies were merely advisory with no decision-making power, and so didn’t have to file the disclosures, but the FPPC wasn’t so sure.

The FPPC also insisted that Kelso’s agency needed to have a formal, FPPC-approved conflict-of-interest code rather than just its own internal policies; without such a code, the FPPC might have little legal recourse if ever it does find something that looks like a conflict of interests in a receivership worker’s filing.

“The receiver has provided us all the information we needed to be able to move forward with creating a conflict of interest code,” FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said this afternoon. “It’s nice that were at this point and we can resolve this issue before the end of the year, and I’m glad everyone was able to get us the documents we needed and help us with the appropriate disclosure.”

A declaration by Kelso and Cate now attests to the fact that those advisory-board members never had any decision-making authority, Porter noted. “I feel comfortable in determining that those committees were advisory, and at this point we have all the information we need to make a determination as to who should be in that (conflict-of-interest) code.”

UPDATE @ 5:58 P.M.: This just in from Luis Patino, Kelso’s spokesman: “We are pleased that the FPPC recognizes that the Receivership has gone ‘above and beyond’ to insist on full compliance on all anti-conflict of interest requirements. The Receivership remains committed to transparency and adherence to the highest ethical standards by all of its employees and units within California Prison Health Care Services.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.