Emails show NCTD changed paperwork after info request

Emails show NCTD changed paperwork after info request

This story was clarified at 5:21 p.m.

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.

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.

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Read the story about NCTD’s contract department audit.

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.”

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.

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.”

We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Brad Racino

Brad Racino is a reporter, producer and editor at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email bradracino@inewsource.org or call (619) 594-3569.
  • Brian

    I’m not sure I see any I’ll-intent or cronyism here. While they did drop the ball procedurally, mistakes happen. Trust me, I run a business. I know this firsthand. Maybe you can shed some light on why this was such a big deal…

    • bradracino

      Thanks for your comment Brian. We believed this story to be important because of NCTD’s history of similar mistakes in the past, as well as the timing of the “error,” having happened immediately after a public records act request and in light of current litigation.

      Thanks for reading.

      -Brad

  • Would Like Truthful Reporting

    Poor reporting. Looks like these are confidential employment evaluation surveys. The reporter is careful to omit this. It’s too bad reporters such as this are lazy at best, and more likely unethical.

    • bradracino

      Thanks for your comment. Please notice the multiple links to our prior story about the lawsuit, which explains the exemptions upon which NCTD bases its withholding:

      “NCTD declined to comment on the lawsuit, but justified its position in a previous email from one of its law firms. It said the documents in question are considered “personnel records” and are exempt from disclosure under a provision of state law.”

      http://inewsource.org/2014/03/18/inewsource-sues-the-north-county-transit-district-for-records/

      Also, this story is not about whether the records are public. This is about changing documentation in light of a public records request.

      Thanks for reading.

      -Brad

  • Carlos Zitarlos

    Ah, the election season must be over, and so we return to another half-baked, partial email trail driven narrative from Inews Source. Yet another case where there’s more heat than fire. If there was a real story here, it would be about how poorly JD Edwards accounting package serves NCTD. That and the overly complicated, poorly understood system for submitting requisitions to get work done from independent contractors.

    Should government work be bid out to multiple sources? Absolutely, but you can see how something like Mgmt training would have more relevance and success hiring a local firm with good credentials than spending a ton of time sourcing a lot of firms to compete. The real story here is the lack of management experience. Why is there a lack of experience? Because of the poor management and employee relations that emanate from the top, which would be Matt Tucker.

    A more instructive article would detail all the management personnel that have left or been fired in the last 2 years. Tucker is a tin pot dictator, the kind of leader who dresses down employees and contractors who don’t have a name tag up so he can do one of his periodic “Hi Bob, Hi Mary” marches around the office pretending there’s a lot of love and respect.

    Tucker has one goal at NCTD, keep costs down. Use as many contractors as possible, whether security and safety are compromised is not an issue. He was brought in by the board 5+ years ago to can the bus drivers and bring in contractors to take over. This probably had to be done with the revenue and shortfall situation that was at hand, but Tucker takes everything to the nth degree, never taking the blame, and browbeating anyone that doesn’t agree with him.

    Do us all a favor and detail the stranglehold Tucker has over the NCTD board, with the help of longtime fat cats Mark Packard and Supervisor Bill Horn. That’s the real story, the employees as a rule at NCTD do a great job, working with antiquated accounting and approval processes and a severe lack of manpower.

    -Carlos Zitarlos

  • http://gravatar.com/pinustorreyana pinustorreyana

    Comment directed to Mr. Zitarlos: You seem to have an insider’s insight into the tactics of Mr. Matthew Tucker. If you are right, then proving that the “dictator” broke the law might require a trail of electronic messages. If Mr. Tucker is just an agent of “fat cats” in positions of political power, how do you suggest that inewsource go about proving those connections? I don’t dispute the quality of the NCTD employees. I rely on them to get me to and from work every day.

  • Carlos Zitarlos

    Longtime observer of NCTD, following the developments through the press, personal associations and observations. I don’t think I ever suggested Tucker broke the law, but he certainly appears to have issues with people management.

    If N. County residents want some change at NCTD, vote on out Bill Horn this November. That would be one step. I would reiterate my support of NCTD employees. All the people I have dealt with have been stellar and very helpful.

    -Carlos Z.