News Column

Workforce Board Comes Under Scrutiny in Report From Hispanic Advocates

June 15, 2011

Kathleen Wilson

A panel that receives federal money to help county residents find and train for jobs is coming under scrutiny from a Latino advocacy group.

The Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County is accused of failing to deliver sufficient job training in the midst of high unemployment, according to a newly released report from the county affiliate of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The group advocating on behalf of more than 330,000 Latino residents in Ventura County made the complaint in a 39-page report alleging systemic management problems in county government.

The criticism was at odds Tuesday with the workforce panel's accounting of its accomplishments before the county Board of Supervisors, a routine update that county managers said had no relation to the LULAC report released last week.

But supervisors, without mentioning the report, raised some of the same concerns as LULAC during their meeting Tuesday.

Supervisor Steve Bennett asked Steve Kinney, chairman of the workforce board, how many people were being trained for jobs. And Supervisor Kathy Long wanted to know whether community organizations were being given a fair shot at contracts and grants recommended by county departments.

LULAC says it's received complaints that the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme seems to get all the contracts for youth training programs. A review of documents shows most of WIB's funding has gone to this one organization over the past several years, the report said.

There's a perception that nonprofit groups led by Latinos are "100 percent blocked out of the competition," the report said.

The club received a $523,000 contract in a group of contracts for social services approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. It was during the discussions for those contracts that Long said complaints seem to be circulating that county contracts "always seem to go to the same people."

Often, that's a matter of availability, she said. "The real issue is we don't have a real deep bench."

Barry Zimmerman, head of the Human Services Agency, denied any favoritism toward the Boys & Girls Club. He said the process is open and subject to public hearings. "We've had no protests," he said.

Zimmerman said small nonprofits sometimes cannot provide the breadth of services required. "Smaller groups don't have the capacity to run countywide programs," he said.

Underuse of federal money also is at issue in the LULAC report.

Ventura was one of 15 counties in which the local workforce board was cited by the state Employment Development Department for underspending of money for laid-off workers, according to the report. The county board received $2.9 million that had to be spent over a two-year period ending in June 2011, but had only spent 40 percent instead of 50 percent by September 2010.

The EDD issued a letter asking for a plan of correction, which the workforce board filed and the state accepted, said Cheryl Moore, executive director of WIB.

She noted all the money was spent by the end of March.

Moore said more than 28,000 people have received help finding jobs through county job and career centers over the past nine months, and more than 680 have gone through job training in the past two years.

The LULAC report also questions the way the food stamp program is being run; alleges insider hiring practices for county government managers; and renews complaints that the county Health Care Agency is diverting patients away from other providers.

County Executive Officer Mike Powers did not dismiss the report out of hand in a brief interview Tuesday.

"I think we need to sit down with LULAC and really listen, and understand their concerns and review the issues with them," Powers said.

He said meetings are being set up with department heads to address the group's concerns on hiring practices and the workforce board.

Powers said he wants to review the issues raised in the report with WIB. The panel is comprised of more than 35 people from labor, business, education, nonprofit sector and other entities.

"I think we want to make sure funds are being utilized in the most efficient manner," he said.

David Rodriguez, a spokesman for LULAC, said in a brief interview that a discussion before the full Board of Supervisors may not be necessary if the group sees changes in county policy. He said talks with Powers and Supervisor John Zaragoza have been "very fruitful."

"As long as that continues, we may not need a full board discussion," he said. "It isn't about hitting anybody over the head. It's really about changing the way the county does business."

Moore said the findings in the report reflected both data and perception. "There's information that is accurate," she said. "At the same time, there are more pieces to that information rather than just what was extracted."

Kinney said he had not yet reviewed the report and declined to comment Tuesday.



Source: Copyright (c) 2011, Ventura County Star, Calif.


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