Earlier this month, inewsource published a series of stories on San Diego’s North County Transit District — a taxpayer-funded public agency responsible for all the trains and buses running between San Diego, Oceanside and Escondido.
The investigation focused on a lack of oversight within the organization, as well as its high rate of turnover within upper management. Our reporting found that those factors have contributed to NCTD’s awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance payments to departing employees — along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in “recruiting fees” to hire their replacements.
During the same few years, audit after audit has shown deficiencies in NCTD’s transportation services for the disabled, the agency’s security services, its contractual oversight division — and its compliance as a recipient of Federal Transportation Administration grants and funding.
For the second time in less than a month, NCTD has sent inewsource and KPBS a letter demanding retractions. We have responded, backing up our statements, and asking NCTD to provide documentation disproving our findings. NCTD has yet to send any information that proves anything in our investigation to be wrong.
However, we are correcting one fact we confirmed ourselves to be inaccurate.
In one of our recent articles, we wrote the following:
“During his outsourcing, [NCTD’s Executive Director Matthew] Tucker contracted out the maintenance of the SPRINTER vehicles to a private company, which then subcontracted out to another private company.”
In fact, SPRINTER operations had been outsourced since the light-rail vehicle’s inception in late 2008, before Tucker joined NCTD.
We also are modifying our graphic detailing the recruiting fees the agency paid for its new hires while we wait for NCTD to identify the individuals involved. NCTD said it did not pay any fees for two employees listed on our graphic, although they did pay fees to recruit for the positions held by those employees. In our reply letter to NCTD, we referenced the agency’s own invoices and asked for correct names of the employees. NCTD has not responded.
In its demand letter, NCTD continued to maintain that it properly allocates capital and operating expenses in its budgets by referencing a letter from its independent auditor stating as such. In our reply, we pointed out that the auditor didn’t look at any of the items described in our investigation, but rather based his judgment on a construction project not mentioned in our story. NCTD has not responded.
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Brad Racino is a multimedia reporter for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email email@example.com or call (619) 594-3569.
Some communications professional needs to dissect the NCTD vs. KPBS response and use it as a case study on how NOT to respond to bad press. If you are going to “fisk” another agency you need to have the facts. It’s interesting to see how a limited investigation – that of the security guard issue – and the stonewalling from the NCTD management and governing body led to a whole cascade of articles, none of them positive, on the agency. The issue of capital vs. operating – which seems like a minor issue to the average person – is blown up to an incredible degree by NCTD, and is disproven by three sources.
Even the video response posted on NCTD’s own website – that of Matthew Tucker on a cable access roundtable – shows the NCTD CEO being defensive and dismissive over KPBS’s stories and to a KPBS journalist who had nothing to do with the original story. It makes Tucker look like one of those poor saps on TV when the cops confront the suspect. When the KPBS reporter offered to close on a positive note, Tucker failed to seize the opportunity and just used it as another diatribe against KPBS. Tucker and Deborah Castillo, the communications manager in charge of this whole response, need to be replaced ASAP in order to keep NCTD’s credibility.
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