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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

courtesy photo/ State Personnel Board
California State Personnel Board President Patricia Clarey

Despite heavy lobbying from departments and interest groups, California’s personnel panel has stood its ground: If you’re applying for a state job, you have to meet the minimum qualifications – even if you’re a state worker.

The State Personnel Board late last week issued guidelines for applying its ruling in Cynthia McReynolds v. California Public Utilities Commission case, which found the CPUC wrongly awarded a transfer without a test to an employee who lacked the experience and the education for the job.

Applied more broadly, the decision ended a common practice that allowed state employees to skip meeting the minimum requirements for some jobs.

State workers in many instances made transfers between departments, for example, without meeting college coursework minimum qualifications. Outside applicants don’t receive the same considerations. The Nov. 7 McReynolds decision stopped that practice, which originated many years ago when State Personnel Board staff allowed the policy.

GNA2NBHA9.3Staff Photographer
Randall Benton/ The Sacramento Bee
An Intel employee examines a test tablet device being at the Intel facility in Folsom in this March 2014 photo.

The majority of state and local government agencies don’t have the plans, tools or system support needed to exploit mobile technology, according to a new study released Monday by a public-private organization that promotes government teleworking.

Nearly 60 percent of government technology managers say their agencies aren’t ready to go mobile, with security concerns (56 percent) and lack of funding (52 percent) cited as the most common obstacles noted in a survey by Mobile Work Exchange on behalf of technology firm Citrix. Other hurdles: management resistance (29 percent) and cultural barriers (23 percent).

Still, 65 percent of the 150 state and local tech managers surveyed said they expect the number of mobile government workers to increase in the next five years.

Asked what single decision their agencies’ top leaders could make to improve mobile readiness, those surveyed named increasing their technology budget (you can imagine Citrix is thrilled with that response), updating technology infrastructure, and increasing employees’ eligibility to telework.

Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
Scaffolding forms a protected walkway to elevators that service the parking structure at the Board of Equalization headquarters in downtown Sacramento.

Work crews this weekend will replace leased scaffolding outside the defective Board of Equalization headquarters with scaffolding purchased by the state, prompting board Chairman Jerome Horton to blast the Brown administration for failing to find a new facility for the agency.

Horton said Thursday that while the change may make financial sense in the short term, it sends a signal that the Department of General Services intends to keep Equalization’s 2,200 or so employees in the troubled building. The downtown Sacramento structure has a history of toxic mold, defective elevators, leaking windows, corroded wastewater pipes, floods, and exterior glass panels that spontaneously break or pop off. Employees have blamed some illnesses on the building, and Horton and other board members want a new facility for the tax-collecting department.

Horton said General Services’ decision to move from renter to owner is “officially making the scaffolding permanent” around an “irreparably broken building” that sparked a $50 million tort claim earlier this month. The board has paid out $2.3 million in connection with building-related employee injury claims.

“We have to relocate these affected BOE employees and consolidate our operations,” Horton said.

GUF2MP8R6.3Staff Photographer
Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
The Board of Equalization building with scaffolding at 450 N St. in Sacramento on Monday, June 12, 2014.

With work crews pulling a scaffolding switcheroo at the Board of Equalization’s headquarters this weekend, and given the attention the building has drawn from The Bee since Sunday, it seems like an apt time to ask faithful blog readers, when will the agency get out of California’s state money pit?

Thursday, July 24 2014
California state tower gets Ohmanized
Jack Ohman/ The Sacramento Bee
At the BOE

Our Sunday story about the Board of Equalization headquarter’s sorry, soggy history inspired this visual commentary by Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman. The Bee’s editorial board also weighed in with its opinion, “State’s tower of horror in downtown Sacramento is nice for bats, not humans.” Read it here.

This column starts where last week’s left off, with a simple question, the government’s nonresponsive response and what it all says about public transparency.

As we reported seven days ago, a state executive started a new state job one day before a state investigation portrayed her as a “non-reliable witness” in a state probe. An investigator found that the executive, Monica Rea, contradicted herself in written statements and interviews about an employee’s illegal promotion at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Ironic.

The day after the State Personnel Board issued its scathing assessment, The State Worker asked a few questions of the spokeswoman for Rea’s new employer, the Department of Aging. Spokeswoman Christin Hemann answered them all, confirming that Rae had started at Aging on July 14 as a deputy director earning $101,422 annually.

Other questions: Does the fact that employees are under investigation travel with them when they transfer? (Nope.) Did Aging know about the investigation into Rea’s role in the scandal at Fair Employment? (“We were not aware of the SPB investigation of Ms. Rea,” Hemann said.)

GAQ2M8PIH.4Staff Photographer
Randall Benton/ The Sacramento Bee
A doctor examines an inmate at the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran.

California state doctors and dentists earned far more than other unionized state employees last year, with base pay averaging $204,764 – and half of them earned more than $234,000.

That more than doubled the average and median salaries of the next highest-paid group, state lawyers and administrative law judges.

It’s difficult to compare the state’s overall pay to employees covered by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists because the government data doesn’t parse the various specialists in the state. In 2012, the last year for which overall federal data is available, physicians practicing primary care medicine received median annual compensation of $220,942 while specialists earned $396,233. Dentists’ median pay that year was $149,310.

The state-pay numbers over the last three years:

Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
A view of scaffolding skirting the Board of Equalization building in downtown Sacramento.

Crews will start work Friday at the vexed Board of Equalization headquarters, but it won’t be to fix the crumbling waste-water plumbing or to replace faulty exterior glass panels that were among the long list of tower defects chronicled by The Sacramento Bee on Sunday.

Instead, the three-day project that kicks off at the end of the work week will replace the rented scaffolding erected two years ago with scaffolding that the state is purchasing.

Officials ordered the pipes and plywood installed on the 24-story tower’s sidewalk and its parking structure’s top level after an exterior glass panel popped off the building’s 8th floor and nearly struck a pedestrian in 2012. According to a BOE memo sent to employees last week, the scaffolding has to be replaced “due to the expiration of the contract with the previous fencing vendor.”

Renting the scaffolding cost the state about $10,000 per month, Department of General Services spokesman Brian Ferguson said. The state is paying $100,609 for the new scaffolding.

Courtesy City of Stockton
Scott Carney

Scott Carney, who sometimes endured withering criticism from lawmakers for his department’s perceived inefficiencies, is leaving his administrative post at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to become a deputy city manager for Stockton. He begins his new job on Sept. 2.

Carney is stepping down from state job that paid him $143,774 last year as director of Corrections’ Division of Administrative Services to take a city job with an annual salary of $192,000.

Administrative Services has an annual operating budget of $178 million and nearly 2,100 staff that manage human resources and business services for the entire $10.7 billion state correctional system and its 61,000 employees.

By comparison, Stockton’s annual budget is $633 million and the city employs about 1,500 workers, city spokeswoman Connie Cochran said. As one of two deputy city managers, Carney oversee city fiances and some other operations.

Brian Baer/ Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
The California Board Chiropractic Examiners meets on Thursday Oct. 25, 2007.

Four years after a Sacramento jury found a Board of Chiropractic Examiners supervisor liable in retaliating against an employee and more than a decade after the case first went to court, Gov. Jerry Brown announced Friday he has signed legislation authorizing payment of a $2.7 million judgment in the matter.

Former chiropractic board office assistant Carole Arbuckle claimed in a whistle-blower lawsuit in 2003 that she was demoted and pushed from her job from reporting a chiropractic license had lapsed on a former board member.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal initially barred Arbuckle from suing under the California Whistleblower Protection Act, saying she failed to exhaust her administrative and judicial remedies. But the California Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision in 2009, reviving the case.

The following year, a Sacramento jury sided with Arbuckle. Finding that her boss, Kim Smith, acted with malice, a Sacramento Superior Court jury awarded Arbuckle about $1.2 million in economic and non-economic damages and $7,500 in punitive damages. According to a legislative analysis, the state was later ordered to pay more than $900,000 in attorney fees, plus costs and interest.

Hector Amezcua/ The Sacramento Bee
An inmate prepares a piece of sheet metal to build one of the components that will be used in a modular building built at the Prison Industry Authority compound at Folsom State Prison.

A state system that uses inmate labor to provide goods and services will see its revenues jump 15.6 percent in fiscal 2014-15, according to a plan recently approved by the board of the California Prison Industry Authority.

The self-sustaining program will take in an anticipated $196.3 million this year that will fully fund its operations at 34 Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facilities. The authority oversees inmate training programs that operate manufacturing, service, and agriculture industries. They produce everything from modular buildings and fire protection gear to furniture and pre-packaged meals. Most of what PIA makes is purchased by the state or other government entities. About 6,700 inmates will participate this year, earning nominal wages for their work.

Just a few years ago, the program was losing money, pinched by factory-closure costs, higher benefits costs for its government employees and money it put aside in anticipation of settling lawsuits.

This year’s rebound is fueled by an expansion of the authority’s construction and maintenance operation into specialized healthcare facilities at all of CDCR’s institutions. The expansion will employ over 900 inmates and generate $18.8 million in new revenue, the authority said in its annual plan.

Personnel Board Resolution and Order Following Investigative Hearing Case 13-1216A

The State Worker column this week delves into alleged shenanigans at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing detailed in a new investigative report by the State Personnel Board.

The gist: A department personnel officer allegedly manipulated in-house candidate lists for an investigative position to exclude qualified candidates and select an employee for the job who wasn’t qualified. Then, according to the report, the department’s second-in-command gave contradictory statements about the degree to which the promoted employee’s qualifications were vetted.

But there were other details of the report that we didn’t have space to chronicle, including:

About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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