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03/28/2011

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Brown Redirects $1 Billion to Medi-Cal - the right call re First 5 Commission - California Children & Families
by Ruben Stutter on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 11:56am

From a life-long Democrat who has become sadly nauseated by the excesses in California government, here's a view of the First 5 Commissions - in support of Governor Brown and the California legislature's re-direct of $1 BILLION to pay for Medi-Cal.

1. Money spent on Medi-Cal for kids is 10 times more important than anything First 5 spends money on.

2. First 5 pays many employees well over $100K. Mike Ruane of the OC First 5 makes over $300K. The only rational reason to even keep First 5 alive is so that the state taxpayers as a whole do not have to pick up the pension tab for it. But keeping it going can't be justified on that basis either, because if they are so responsible, as they have claimed, should they not have used reserves to properly fund pension obligations?

I think so, and I think the pension issue PROVES that they have no real commitment to doing what's right for the children they are supposedly serving because it's THOSE children who'll have to pick up the unfunded pension later when they are adults.

3. The only reason they had such large reserves is that it took most of them 2+ years to come up with a strategic plan - this was not "good planning" as is often claimed - they simply COULD NOT legally spend the money without having a strategic plan in place. Spinning the truth like that really creates a level of mistrust about the First 5 Commissions and perhaps gave wind to the Gov and the Legislature to take the stand they have.

The real question is, IMO: how competent were they to take 2+ years to start spending the money that they now claim is "so desperately needed" by these kids? Not competent at all as I see it.

4. As far as I have seen, First 5 NEVER refers to specific outcome data created by their programs. Instead they rely on studies done decades before they started and/or from programs not even run by First 5. Any reasonable person would agree that First 5 claims for making any kind of improvement should be evaluated using THEIR OWN studies. Someone did review a good number of the eval studies and it was not a pretty picture (about 1/4 of the way down the blog):

http://blogs.venturacountystar.com/mlakin/archives/2009/04/prop-1d-the-d-stands-for-decep.html

5. There are a lot of people who have been asking hard questions about First 5, and I sadly find myself agreeing that they should, given that several First 5 Commissions have been restructured due to self-dealing and conflicts of interest problems. Unfortunately, all of these newspapers cannot be wrong:

RIVERSIDE (Riverside Press-Enterprise)

Fair bidding?, December 15, 2008
Changes urged for 'dysfunctional' First 5 Riverside commission , December 17, 2008
First 5 Commission looks at perception of conflict of interest, February 25, 2009
Riverside County supervisors want to make First 5 Riverside a county agency, March 17, 2009

SAN DIEGO (San Diego Union Tribune)

Member of First 5 Commission steps down, June 3, 2009
Deeper conflicts emerge in First 5 funding, June 4, 2009
Glaring conflicts: First 5 grant program needs thorough overhaul, June 5, 2009
First 5 tightens funding policies: New bylaws target conflicts of interest, June 30, 2009
New rules prompt 9 to quit First 5 advisory panel, August 18, 2009
First 5 spending plan has old ties, Sept 13, 2009
Fix First 5 – now Use funds on health care, not belly dancing?, Nov 21, 2008

FRESNO (Bee)

Fresno Co. finds it hard to measure First 5's results, Dec. 26, 2009
Fresno Co. First 5 faces conflict-of-interest worries, Dec. 27, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (Chronicle)

Not all First 5 grants are helping poor kids, Apr 19, 2008

SACRAMENTO (Sacramento Bee)

Kids panels hold $2 billion Sacramento Bee, January 17, 2008
Program critics claim abuse, want to seize funds, January 13, 2009

TULARE (Visalia Times-Delta)

First 5 spends $18k on invitations for a $486 party, just weeks before election, Apr 21, 2009

ALSO:

Time to End the Children and Families Commission’s Autonomy May 6, 2010 (http://www.fullertonsfuture.org/2010/time-to-end-the-children-and-families-commissions-autonomy/#comment-13984

[AUDIO] First 5 Consultant receives $200 per hour for listening to radio KFI (May 7, 2010) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3-nP9Hxvjw&fe...!

[VIDEO] $4 million is spent on a national cartoon show KCRA (11-18-08)

6. The biggest concern for the taxpayer is the idea that a commitment to "the big picture" about caring for children could be used to justify any behavior, legal or illegal, by those running such freewheeling entities. We have all seen the impact of government misuse of authority. For me, I know I did not vote for First 5 so that they would pay for belly dancing classes; I was appalled that their lobbyist was found to have said that she thinks paying for belly dancing is a really good use of First 5 funds:

http://www.californiahealthline.org/Features/2009/Prop-1D-Called-Hobsons-Choice-for-Voters.aspx

7. Further, unlike EVERY OTHER organization in California, First 5 has a legal exception to the conflict of interest law - that means people sitting on their Commission Boards can and generally DO receive the lion's share of the funds. In such a situation, I think that means that all the Commissioners have to do, wink wink, is leave the room when monies that could go to them are voted on. Think the Commissioners don't know that they can pretty much make back room deals with key community provider support? It's no stretch if you ask me.

8. Did you know - there is NO ONE to whom the First 5 Commissions report in terms of oversight? It seems to require a Grand Jury investigation - whose impact appears to be limited to recommendations to Boards of Sups, and bad publicity as per below

Grand Jury report details problems at First 5 Contra Costa

http://www.halfwaytoconcord.com/grand-jury-first-five-commission/

Unfortunately, just because the subject matter is about children does not mean that bad things are not going on in this organization. Even if some newspapers do not have a clue, I think Jerry Brown does - - - that a Democrat governor is willing to move these funds to something more worthwhile I believe speaks VOLUMES about what the insiders know about the First 5 programs.

And to me, it's just far more heart wrenching to know that a kid could get treatment for a life threatening disease but for the fact that funds are just sitting in the First 5 coffers collecting millions in interest, kept there so that trips to the Jelly Belly factory and the like can be funded (oh yes they did!).

Why did it take so long for all this information, abuse of funds, etc. to come out and be dealt with?

I know we have tried for many years to acquire funds from First 5 to prevent brain damage to children 1 - 4 from drowning incidents, keeping their little minds healthy, but to no avail. What a waste of money and hope for other unintentional injuries that leave our children with neurological problems and maybe eligible for special education ( then the nightmare begins.)

Over the years we approached by mail, requests for funding for our community outreach programs to keep our children safe from brain injuries and to keep them out of the Medi-cal systems if they were even eligible after their injuries.

Letters were sent to six county First Five Executive Directors. Only Solano County responded....
.
The same issue is going on now with the Kids Plate funding for which our organization and many others in California fought so hard to have passed. Yes, he bill did pass; however, our agency got very little in grant funding over the years from the administration that accepted proposals.

Now, the 25% portion of the bill that was to fund unintentional injuries is not approachable for grants ... Guess the government is now going to get its hands on that funding and where it will go nobody knows. So, what else is new?

One other thing I was not aware of until this week was the high salaries the [First 5] EDs were making in each county. Over $100K is outrageous! ...


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