Part 1: ONME News Investigative Report: Weeding out political greed, nepotism and conflicts of inte


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He is honored by millions and quoted in thousands of different speeches across the world; the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is most famous for his non-violent methods and renowned “I Have a Dream” speech. People often quote his most celebrated, debatable statement:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Well said, but undone on both sides; the hypocrisy within the Black community is one thing, whereas today’s racism in regards to skin color is another: In today’s political climate, both sides are taking advantage as if were not applicable to them. Some people in the Black community are still jaded by the old school of thought that a Black politician will somehow make their communities better; some non-Black people are oblivious to believe that because we had a Black president, things are certainly better than the days of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s timely Civil Rights Movement.

So instead, here are some of King’s most relevant quotes to the current experience of ONME News team members:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

I am not interested in power for the power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral that is right and that is good.

Are we serving a power structure that is meant to keep people in fear, loathing and want?

As an ethnic media outlet, it is the duty of ONME News to not be afraid to tell the truth, no matter how grim the news may seem to our very own Black community …

As members of the ONME News team have been personally attacked recently by Fresno city council district three candidate Jim (sometimes “James”) Tate Hill and/or his supporters and hired contractors (see end of story below), and possibly current Councilman Oliver Baines, it was found to be most fitting to continue to explore these two potential career politicians—informing the public of how elected representatives and candidates intend on spending public tax dollars, (also, please see update of the that investigation at the end of this article.)

The beginning Question: Fresno City Hall, Fresno County EDC, Fresno EOC and the elusive bullet train connecting Los Angeles to the Central Valley and Bay Area … what do these establishments politically all have in common?

Well, according to last year’s Clovis Observer news article, Dec. 13, 2017 by journalist George Hostetter, “political supremacy” is the ultimate trophy where District 3 Councilman Oliver Baines currently resides, and candidates Miguel Arias or Jim Tate Hill would take over come this November 2018 election.

Hostettter’s article presented some ethical and possible nepotism issues in regards to Councilman Baines between the taxpayers’ moneys and the workforce development entities in contention—an issue pointed out by former EOC board member, now district 3 candidate, Arias and other board members, according to the ONME News team research in reviewing the minutes.

One aspect of the article seems true to today’s current Fresno economics; many people of color and the poor throughout Fresno County are and will continue to be in an eternal disparity due to the lack of career training, Hostetter explained, although the government has invested billions of dollars into these types of organizations such as Fresno EOC, and Fresno County EDC.

About Fresno EOC

Here’s a brief history of the Fresno EOC that is the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission which manages a roughly $126 million budget per year: Congress enacted the "Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964,” as a part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Encompassing John F. Kennedy’s purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EOA of 1964 was created “to eliminate the paradox of poverty on the midst of plenty in this nation by opening…. to everyone… the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.” It also authorized the formation of local Community Action Agencies as part of the War on Poverty.

Fresno EOC founded in 1965, is today known as one of the largest private nonprofit community action agencies that is one of most effective poverty-fighting organizations in the country. It is not a part of the Fresno County government, as some may assume and their main source of funding comes from grants and donors.

According to their website, “The scope of service provided by our Agency consists of almost all facets of human services and economic development… With over 30 programs to serve the community ...”

It also explains that “they are governed by a twenty-four (24) member three-party Board of Commissioners, where 8 are public elected officials or their designee; 8 are from the business sector, public agencies, and community groups, and 8 are elected low-income target area representatives from throughout Fresno County.”

About Fresno EDC

To give some background on the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation (Fresno EDC), elements of their objective includes business recruitment, expansion and retention facilitation. Their mission, vision, and strategy include: "To market Fresno County as the premiere location for business prosperity; to be recognized as The Essential Connection for expanding economic development in Central California, where this is to be accomplished by assisting business expansion, attraction, and retention through our alliance with collaborative partners and resources." They are funded by both public and private investments.

The Fresno EDC is also in partnership with the City and County of Fresno, providing assistance to all businesses impacted by High-Speed Rail ("HSR") project, with the mission “to provide empathetic, knowledgeable and effective service to all impacted business owners affected by HSR to ease the transition and foster retention. Essentially they help to bring work-force training and skilled jobs throughout the county. In fact, Fresno EDC chief executive officer, Lee Ann Eager is in communication with the high speed rail company in charge of building the section designated in the Central Valley area, according to Hostetter. Eager is also currently the Fresno CDFI/Access Plus Capital board chair.

The Fresno EDC free of charge confidential services includes working closely with local real estate professionals to identify similarly situated relocation properties.

Building on the Conflict of Interest with the Baines Couple

So back to the relevancy concerning Baines, Hostetter points out that “jobs and workforce development,” were key themes in Baine’s second term of the district 3 city council seat: the bullet train would run directly through his district. Thus district 3 becomes prime real estate, where the power is truly in the hands of any future elected official serving that district 3 seat. This would also explain why just a few years ago, Baines, founded the Valley Apprenticeship Connections (VAC), a program preparing people in poverty for careers in construction (specifically HSR, according to research) which then became affiliated with Fresno Career Development Institute, in which he is the board chairman. His program currently receives almost $800,000.00 in public funding, although the effective results of the program are extremely questionable. Its funding beginnings started through the Fresno EOC.

Click here to see expanded chart

According to our research, the idea for the VAC program, coincidentally, most likely came through a group of concerned community members. Constituents from his district already had a similar program prior to VAC’s existence, called Voice of Including Community Equitably (VOICE) Gladiator Program, a holistic job training and placement program. Founders Leroy Candler and Beau Reynolds, the executive director and consultant, created VOICE which offers a 4-year degree pathway for ex-offenders and veterans through Fresno State University, certification in welding, solar, manufacturing and warehouse logistics, forklift driving and construction trade pre- apprenticeship training through Fresno City College and truck driving training in partnership with the Teamsters union. They also provide family case management services that ensure participants have their basic social needs met allowing for total focus on training components.

In an Oct. 14, 2014 Fresno Bee article, southwest Fresno supporters of VOICE openly expressed their concerns about the lack of training and support for unemployed disadvantaged Central Valley residents for jobs related to the California High-Speed Rail Authority; they were not looking for standards to be lowered, but instead, wanted to make sure the same opportunities were presented to their community. Candler and Reynolds presented their VOICE proposal to the The Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board who received over a million dollars from state grant funds for pre-training efforts; however, it was not very effective in qualifying workers for apprenticeships. Baines has been a member of this board for several years, according to his California Form 700 statements one can see below:

Candler and members of the community were looking for assistance and collaborators for the VOICE project, and wanted to make sure that the California HSR jobs were also obtainable for the local residents living in close quarters. Shortly thereafter, Baines founded VAC.

According to his California Form 700 statement he was not only in management of VAC, but he was also the 2017 paid EOC consultant: he was awarded a six-month $60,000.00 contract, solely approved by Fresno EOC executive director, Brian Angus, most likely because Baines’ wife, LaShawn Baines, was still serving on the Fresno EOC board until the end of 2016 when VAC was also seeking funds through the Fresno EOC—in which this eventually happened without board due process … the board also reported on the major conflict of interest of his wife, a voting member serving on the board, while her husband, Baines, was seeking funds—more on that later.

Meanwhile Baines was continuing to hold his $65,000.00 per year full-time job as a city council representative for district 3; this became an upset for new Fresno EOC board members reviewing such matters because they could not understand why a person already working full time was also receiving a full-time consultant salary, where according to Hostetter, Baines’ contract deemed that he would be paid $60 per hour for up to 1,000 hours.—that’s approximately over 38.5 hours per week as a consultant for six months [approximately $9,900/month]. On top of that, he was serving on other boards, even as chair, which is very time consuming. New and almost new Fresno EOC board members joining at the time were puzzled by the lack of discretion and spoke up about such matters, which created dissension among veteran members who had been serving on the Fresno EOC board for several years. Baines and other board members began to identify the matter as a race issue between “Blacks and Mexicans,” according to Hostetter’s article. However this was a mere distraction from the facts at hand …

The 2017 Breakdown of the Fresno EOC Board

To give readers a better understanding of the current black and brown argument still ensuing among Fresno EOC board members and community members in the know, it is important to first understand which Fresno EOC board members served on key committees which acted as the check and balance of Fresno EOC contracting, funding, and transaction procedures. In looking at the chart below, it would be the “Program Planning and Evaluation” Committee (P&E) who would review Baines’ VAC program proposal and schematics to report back to the entire board: in 2017, Arias was serving as the chair of the Program Planning and Evaluation along with Harpreet Bali, Esther Cuevas, Deanna Mathies, and Juanita Veliz.

In regards to Fresno EOC’s Finance Committee, Juan Arambula was the chair, also serving with Harpreet Bali, Charles Garabedian, Yvette Quiroga and Richard Sepulveda. They were in charge of reviewing budgets and transaction protocols. These two committees met separately but reported back similar concerns:

In reviewing the notes and minutes from Fresno EOC’s Planning and Evaluation Committee Meeting April 11, 2017 where Baines and Fresno EOC CEO Angus were present, Angus explained that generally the agency would have to bid for a contract but in this case, Fresno EDC approached EOC and asked the agency to provide oversight for the VAC program. Chief Innovation Officer Paul McLain-Lugowski explained the contract would absorb two grants: Fresno EDC’s contract and the State Center Community College District Contract for $60,000 from March 20, 2016 to Feb. 1, 2018.

All administrative responsibilities would then be assumed by Fresno EOC beginning May 1, 2017. Angus then confirmed that VAC employees were considered Fresno EOC employees. However, he also stated that Fresno Career Institute was to provide the funds to Fresno EOC, since they had a contract with Eager’s Fresno EDC—this did not happen. Fresno EOC had to pay for the unauthorized VAC program by using moneys from the Head Start program's annual funds.

Furthermore, the dicey contract stated that Baines was a “special assistant” to Agnus to lead the Central Valley Mandela Center program development effort, according to Hostetter’s article. In looking at the minutes, that information conflicts with the minutes where Angus stated, “The VAC program and Mandela Center are two separate programs but they will work together and with other programs to support each other.” Consultant Baines confirmed that the two different programs would serve different populations.

When Arias asked who would oversee the program, Angus explained according to the minutes, “…A new position, Chief Enterprise Officer, is being developed. This position would oversee contract related programs, such as weatherization, transit, food services and VAC.” Some board members surmised that such a position was being developed for Baines, who was already double-dipping into taxpayers’ funds.

In the same report, finance committee Chair Arambula was concerned about the sole source/non-competitive vendor’s policy which allows CEO Angus to approve procurement of contracts of $150,000.00 without board approval, such as the case with Baines. This seemed to be a big issue among board members, where some chose to see the issue as a race debate between “black and brown peoples” on the board, according to the detailed minutes researched.

The Fresno EOC P&E Committee issued a detailed timeline from the start of the VAC ordeal, from Sept. 2016 to June 29, 2017 in the minutes to point out the holes in the contract:

1. In September 2016, Baines’ wife, a voting member on the Fresno EOC board, should have recused herself from any votes concerning the VAC program funding—she did resign by the end of 2016, after the VAC was already set to receive funds from Fresno EOC.

2. February 9, 2017, 5 VAC employees were hired by EOC without any direction of the clear funding sources of the VAC programming, laying the burden undoubtedly on EOC.

3. By March 2017, the VAC program is tabled due to the lack of a proposal. Baines’ consulting contract is also tabled during this time until there is more clarity on the Mandela Center dual relationship with Fresno EOC. The matter is put into the hands of the P&E Committee to deal with the proposal submission, etc.

4. By April, the board is seeking legal counsel on an MOU to get reimbursement for the Fresno EOC/VAC employees who have already worked.

5. By June 2017, VAC employees are told they are going to also be doing EOC duties, yet no duties are identified to the board who is questioning the training and qualifications of such practices for these specified employees. Meanwhile, the EOC board still does not have a reimbursement agreement from Fresno Career Development Institute as promised by Angus who is on vacation during this time; therefore, no renewal funds for the following year are reviewed or budgeted, nor had Fresno EDC received a proposal to request funds for reimbursement—leaving Fresno EOC stuck holding the bag, using other funds to make up the deficit – funds from the Head Start program.

According to January 24, 2018 minutes, Angus reported in his CEO report that VAC’s funding would be receiving almost $800,000.00 in funding for 2018:

In Part 2 of ONME News’ investigative report, we will delve into the questionable results of the VAC program thus far, as well as other questionable actions regarding Baines’ activity on the Fresno CDFI board, a subsidiary of Fresno EOC, (now called Access Plus Capital) which is still being validated, along with the VAC program inconsistencies. The sensitivity on the matter is most crucial and yet revealing for public consumption, where ONME News will continue to inform tax payers where money is being used or spent in their local communities.

Hill -vs- ONME News Investigation Update:

Update on the ONME News Investigation: As members of the ONME News team are collaborating with local and federal authorities and their attorneys on the serious credit breaches, here are some things we found:

In regards to the personal, attacking Facebook comments from Hill supporter, Kina McFadden, against ONME News owners, it was noted that she is a paid member of Hill’s campaign, according to Hill’s 460 statements. McFadden is known as a local promoter and social media manager. Therefore it was possible that Hill knew all along her tactics and/or involvement in directly trying to damage the business side of ONME News through obtaining access to the owners' personal credit. Take a look:

Stay tuned for more investigative reporting next week through ONME News.

#ClovisObserver #CouncilmanOliverBaines #GeorgeHostetter #MiguelArias #JimTateHill #FresnoEOC #FresnoCountyEDC #FresnoCityHall #creditfraud #KinaMcFadden

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