Top employees at the San Diego County Office of Education have been allowed to avoid reporting gifts despite a California law that is supposed to ensure that the public can peek at who is paying for meals, handing out baseball tickets or giving other gifts to influential government employees.
The office has allowed employees to report their income without revealing gifts, an exception that could obscure important information about who is wining and dining public officials. California law says that gifts are income, no different than the other earnings that top employees already must report on annual statements of economic interests.
The Fair Political Practices Commission urged the County Office of Education to change its guidelines after being alerted to the issue by voiceofsandiego.org earlier this month. Depending on how long the office has failed to report gifts, its employees may need to report gifts they received years ago. Office spokesman Jim Esterbrooks said the agency is updating its guidelines to comply.
Gifts have played a role in a contentious lawsuit filed by a former employee that alleges free meals contributed to a “culture of corruption” at the agency that steered County Office of Education business to specific law firms.
For instance, employees who help oversee legal work for school districts regularly accepted free lunches from an attorney who is frequently hired by their department, according to testimony by employee John Vincent taken as part of the lawsuit. Attorney Dan Shinoff usually paid for the meals, which happened more than once a month, Vincent said.
Diane Crosier, who directs the office’s risk management department, was one of the employees that accepted the meals, according to the testimony. Her department controls millions of dollars in legal work for school districts across the county. While Crosier does not decide which attorneys to assign to each legal case, she oversees Rick Rinear, the worker who does. Rinear also went to lunch with Shinoff from time to time, along with other employees, Vincent said in the deposition this year.