The State Worker

Ousted in March, but tax board’s leader never missed a paycheck

Board of Equalization member Jerome Horton
Board of Equalization member Jerome Horton Sacramento Bee file, 2012

In losing her job last spring, former Board of Equalization executive Cynthia Bridges ultimately traded five bosses for one.

Board member Jerome Horton this month hired her as a special consultant, keeping her on his payroll seven months after the tax board voted to remove her as its executive director amid a critical audit about the board’s efficiency and management. Bridges now earns about $9,800 a month providing tax advice to Horton and his constituents, according to her contract.

Her new job is her second extension at BOE since the board announced in late March that she would be leaving the department by June 30. The board appointed longtime administrator David Gau as her successor.

Bridges did not receive severance pay when the board ended her tenure as executive director. It appointed her as a special consultant, a position she held until she joined Horton’s staff, said BOE spokesman Dan Elliott.

Horton and his staff did not return calls for comment.

Citing guidance from their lawyers, tax board spokesmen refused to disclose how Horton voted in March when the board decided to promote Gau and remove Bridges.

The board’s decision not to release the vote breakdown on Bridges’ dismissal as executive director appears to conflict with the Bagley-Keene Act, a state law governing open meetings. It says that state boards must disclose any roll call vote to “appoint, employ, or dismiss a public employee arising out of any closed session of the state body.”

“If they voted, they have to reveal it,” said Peter Scheer, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

After The Sacramento Bee cited the open government law, board attorneys said they would seek an opinion from the state attorney general’s office about whether they must release the board’s vote on Bridges’ employment.

The board is in the crosshairs of two separate audits from other state agencies.

They followed an investigation in The Bee that revealed that the state spent $130,000 to remodel Horton’s office with designer furniture, and a separate report that showed rapidly rising spending on BOE district offices during Bridges’ tenure as executive director.

The Legislature asked for the first audit. It’s being conducted by the Department of Finance to assess tax collection practices and the outreach activities its elected members sponsor, among other topics.

The Finance Department report is expected to build on an audit State Controller Betty Yee released last year that prompted the BOE to reallocate $343 million in misdirected revenue. Yee is a member of the BOE.

The other pending audit, from the Department of General Services, is focusing on the BOE’s procurement practices.

Bridges earned about $175,000 a year as the BOE’s executive director. She joined the tax board in 2012 after serving in a similar position in Louisiana.

The BOE manages about $60 billion in tax revenue every year. The five elected board members set policy and can serve as arbiters in disputes.

Each board member has a budget and a group of staff members, similar to state legislators. Bridges is one of two former BOE executive directors who work for Horton.

Kristine Cazadd, who retired from the BOE as its executive director in 2012, also works for Horton as a tax specialist. She is a part-time retired annuitant who provides legal advice and case research for Horton, according to her contract.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton