The Public Eye: $3 million in state contracts yanked from Sacramento mental health group

Published: Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

A Sacramento mental health organization has lost state contracts worth more than $3 million because of alleged mismanagement and misappropriation of state funds, including use of an agency credit card to get an employee out of jail.

Similar complaints about wasteful spending recently led the California state auditor to launch an examination of the Mental Health Services Act, a tax approved by voters in 2004.

In the case of the Sacramento organization, the state Department of Mental Health earlier this year pulled a $1.64 million contract from the California Network of Mental Health Clients. The three-year contract called for the consumer-run organization to provide mental health advocacy and education.

In a letter to the organization, the state said the contract was canceled for failure to complete contracted work, improper raises to employees and personal use of state funds, among other things.

Late last year, the California Mental Health Services Authority, an independent joint powers authority responsible for Proposition 63 funding, yanked a $1.53 million contract from the California Network of Mental Health Clients because of "significant organizational changes." The contract called for the organization to help reduce the stigma attached to mental illness and combat discrimination.

CalMHSA said it acted in response to complaints from organization board members with "serious concerns about (its) ability to function in terms of governance and administration," according to a letter from CalMHSA to the the California Network of Mental Health Clients.

In a written response to questions from The Bee, board member Carol Underwood acknowledged that disorganization had hurt the Network of Mental Health Clients in the past. She said the board provided CalMHSA with a reorganization plan, but it was deemed unacceptable.

She also said the board is appealing the state review and coming up with proof of completed contract work.

Underwood said that former acting executive director Perry G. Joshua Two Feathers Tripp used a California Network of Mental Health Clients credit card to post a bond payment when he faced a charge of driving under the influence in Sacramento.

In an interview, the official admitted that he used the card for the bond payment, but said it was an accident because he had two Wells Fargo cards that looked alike – one his, the other the organization's. He also said he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in the DUI case.

He was a board member when the previous executive director left. When he began running the office, he said he found employees getting paid for work not done and receiving raises without state approval. He said he reported the problems to the state attorney general's office and the Department of Mental Health.

A state review of the California Network of Mental Health Clients, conducted by the Department of Health Care Services, found widespread problems, according to an April 25 review summary.

"The organization has poor business practices and does not appear to have the ability to meet contract deliverables due to organizational instability such as high employee and board member turnover; constant change in management; lack of internal controls and accountability; and lack of business know how," according to the summary.

Roy Crew, a former board president, and Kathy Trevino, a former employee, told The Bee this week that those problems have existed for years.

The state Department of Mental Health – which is now the Department of State Hospitals – has provided most of the organization's funding, including payment for two of the three years under the most recent contract, according to Underwood.

In an April 27 letter, Kathryn Radtkey-Gaither, then working for the Mental Health Department, said the review was initiated because of reports from Sacramento police, the attorney general's office, consumers and organization employees.

It's not clear why the state didn't know sooner about the organization's apparent failure to meet contract requirements and other problems.

A state spokeswoman said the department would accept questions only in writing. The Bee submitted questions Wednesday. Late Friday afternoon a spokesman sent a one-line response saying the department had no additional information about the Network of Mental Health Clients.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Brad Branan

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