A report recently released by the Amador County Grand Jury looks into allegations that government officials in 2014 helped to unfairly tip the scales in favor of a nonprofit organization that was competing for contracts previously held by the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency.

The investigation stemmed from a complaint the jury received in October 2014 that alleged potential collusion between the county and Nexus Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit launched by former ATCAA employees, to take away contracts from ATCAA.

ATCAA is a joint-powers authority formed by Amador and Tuolumne counties in 1981 as an umbrella agency to provide a wide variety of social services, such as the Head Start program for preschoolers, homeless assistance, senior in-home care services and a food bank in Jamestown.

Nine contracts with Amador County held by ATCAA, including five behavioral-health services contracts and four social services programs, all unexpectedly came up for renewal in April 2014 and advertised by the county through a “request for proposals,” or an RFP.

Notification of the RFP’s release was emailed to eight organizations, including ATCAA. However the report stated ATCAA was the only one identified by the jury in which the notice was sent to lower-level employees — both of whom left soon after to form Nexus — as opposed to the agency’s executive director at the time.

“Leaving the Executive Director of ATCAA off of the list, and only including the two key persons who they knew were betraying ATCAA management from within to form their own company, strongly supports the allegations that there was a cooperative effort to give Nexus principals an unfair advantage to take ATCAA’s contracts,” the jury stated in its report.

The Amador County Health and Human Services Director at the time, whose name was not specified in the report, previously worked as the county’s social services director in early 2012 when ATCAA had an issue with one of its employees.

According to the report, the HHS director became frustrated with the matter and received second and third hand information about it from one of the employees who later went on to join Nexus. Though the matter was resolved internally, the HHS Director blamed the agency for being named in civil litigation related to it.

“This paradigm of secondhand information forms the wedge that began a split from within ATCAA,” the report stated.

In January, one of the ATCAA employees who would later go on to help form Nexus sent an email list to the HHS Director of contracts the new organization would be able to handle while still working for ATCAA.

The jury obtained a February 2014 email from the HHS Director to the Amador County General Services Administration Director that stated: “I have not gone through any significant RFP so this is kind of new for me. Do we need to put other contracts up for RFP also due to any concern about how it looks to only do ATCAA contracts or is that not an issue?”

Some of the findings in the jury’s report included that personal relationships between the Amador County officials and principals of Nexus led to favoritism, the HHS Director selected the nine contracts that were “cherry picked” by Nexus’ staff, and the HHS Director did not recuse himself from the evaluation process for the contracts until after making changes that benefitted Nexus.

The report also makes 14 recommendations on ways to prevent conflicts of interest in the contract process.

Raj Rambob said he became the executive director of ATCAA in January following the retirement of longtime ATCAA Executive Director Shelly Hance, whom he praised for her handling of the situation detailed in the report.

“Any loss of any contract results in a financial loss of course at every level, from administration to direct services,” Rambob said. “The past executive director Shelly Hance stayed remarkably and honorably focused on providing those services and, from what I understand, they were continued without much interruption and are continuing today.”

Rambob said ATCAA would “certainly” be open to administer the services previously provided to Amador County if the contracts were put out for bid again in the future.

Amador County Administrator Chuck Iley did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Tuolumne County Supervisor Karl Rodefer, who serves on ATCAA’s Board of Directors, said he didn’t feel comfortable commenting on the jury’s report, but he’s interested to see how the Amador County Board of Supervisors addresses the situation.

“I thought it was a pretty harsh indictment of their staff, and I’m just going to be very interested in what the outcome of that is,” Rodefer said. “I was disappointed in what was going on then and remain disappointed, but I’ll wait and see how things shake out.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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