A report published this week from California Watch painted a bleak picture of MV Transportation’s handling of mass transit services in Fairfield. It included allegations from a former city worker who described a dysfunctional administrative process. It left the impression with some that something funny was happening at City Hall, and that campaign cash may be a root cause.
It’s the whole cash-for-access thing that we see so often in presidential politics, only this time at the local level.
The California Watch report was accompanied by a more detailed review by Daily Republic Reporter Barry Eberling of an audit the city commissioned of Fairfield’s contract with MV Transportation.
These types of situations occur because of the nature of campaign finance.
For the past two years, the DR has not endorsed city council candidates who accept campaign contributions from unions that represent city workers. We believe those contributions muddy the political water, particularly during times of economic strife such as we have witnessed the past several years.
The same concern exists with campaign money that originates with those who either hold contracts with the city, or who hope to hold contracts with the city. The vast majority of the time, it’s the perception that causes worry among voters, as opposed to the reality. Yes, we read about corrupt politicians from time to time, those who sell their votes or grant other political favors in exchange for cash, but those are by far the exception.
Did money given to current and former Fairfield City Council members give MV Transportation officials greater access to City Hall? Maybe. Did that access lead to decisions that favored MV Transportation, to the detriment of Fairfield residents in general and in particular, local bus passengers? Doubtful.
It’s true that short of a smoking gun, we may never know the real answer, but the evidence points to a lack of nefarious intent.
Just follow the money.
MV Transportation was fined $166,894 for nearly 300 contract violations between July 2008 and August 2010. The company successfully appealed $39,301 of that amount to City Manager Sean Quinn, but was required to pay the remainder – $127,593.
How do other cities handle contract violations? Thousand Oaks over three years fined its contractor $1,000, Yolo County Transportation District issued fines totaling $100. Vallejo’s contract company was not fined at all, according the outside audit.
I don’t know about you, but if I gave money to local City Council candidates with the expectation of receiving preferential treatment, and my candidates were elected, I would not consider it preferential treatment to have to pay more than $125,000 in fines over a two-year period.
Bottom line, at least for me: The campaign contributions make for interesting reading, but it’s equally interesting to see how much MV Transportation was dinged.
I’m eager to see what the totals look like for 2011 and 2012. We’ll let you know when we find out.
Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.