By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
UPDATED VERSION OF STORY POSTED AT 4:55 PM THURSDAY
A formal audit of state Assembly candidate Michael Allen’s work for the Sonoma County Water Agency cited problems with how Allen documented a source for some of his reports and how the scope of his work was modified without proper authorization.
But County Auditor Rod Dole, who has endorsed Allen’s candidacy for the 7th Assembly District seat in the Democratic primary, also noted that Water Agency officials who were interviewed as part of the month-long investigation were “satisfied” with the work they paid Allen to produce.
There was debate Thursday on how to interpret the findings.
Allen has refused numerous requests for comment this week, but his campaign staff characterized the report as a vindication of his work.
County Supervisor Valerie Brown, however, said she still has concerns about Allen using material from other consultants without properly citing their work.
In her opinion, the report raises concerns about the management and oversight of every contract the county has.
“For sure, there are some issues that have been pointed out in the audit that suggest to the board they need to review that,” she said. “The politics of it has to be secondary.”
The auditor’s office launched the review in early April after a Santa Rosa woman who had volunteered for former City Councilman Lee Pierce brought concerns to several county supervisors, including Brown, the board’s chairwoman.
Pierce also is seeking the Assembly seat being vacated by Noreen Evans.
The auditor’s report noted that a 2005 contract that was the focus of the plagiarism concerns did not prohibit Allen from using the work or ideas of others.
The Water Agency paid Allen $24,500 to research how seven acres of land the agency owns on West College Avenue could be placed in a trust that would lead to long-term management of a neighborhood of houses kept at median-price levels.
The auditor’s report found that Allen cited the work of a housing expert in one report he submitted to the Water Agency but that he did not do so in a subsequent report.
“My expectation is that people we contract with produce original work or document where they get that work from,” Brown said. “When I was a teacher, I expected that from my students. I expect if from my staff.”
The auditor’s report noted that the expert whose work Allen included — Philadelphia-based consultant Daniel Hoffman — was aware that his work was being referenced. In an interview with The Press Democrat, Hoffman said he only found out about the contract from the former Pierce volunteer who contacted him earlier this year.
In an e-mail Hoffman later sent directly to Allen, he told Allen that he had no concerns that his work was used improperly and hoped the matter could be put to rest.
The county auditor instead launched the investigation on April 8 after receiving a request from the Sonoma County Counsel’s office. The report is, in essence, a fact-finding document. It’s up to county supervisors to interpret those findings and take any necessary action.
In 2007, Allen entered into a contract with the Water Agency to develop a plan to construct about 100 units of affordable housing on the West College Avenue site. However, auditors concluded that the contract was improperly modified.
According to the report, Allen and Mike Thompson, the agency’s deputy chief engineer, verbally agreed that Allen should work with Northbay Family Homes to develop a housing assistance program rather than with a non-profit land trust that was in the original contract.
That violated terms of the agreement that stated any changes or extra work had to be documented in writing and signed by both parties, the report stated.
In another section, auditors found that Allen did not meet all of the requirements of a Water Agency housing plan because Allen did not “clearly address” the financing alternatives for agency employees.
The total amount of the three contracts Allen entered into with the Water Agency was $119,500. Allen was ultimately paid $109,858, according to the auditor’s report.
The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission also is conducting an inquiry to determine whether Allen violated conflict-of-interest laws while he was a member of the Santa Rosa Planning Commission and working for the Water Agency.
That probe centers on Allen’s vote in August to approve an overhaul of the city general plan that changed the land-use designation for property owned by the Water Agency. Allen at the time was under contract to the agency to lobby for that change in the general plan designation.
Allen has denied talking to fellow commissioners or city staff members about the project once he was appointed to the commission.
One of his billings to the Water Agency indicated, however, that he had a brief conversation with Advanced Planning Director Wayne Goldberg in March 2009.
The auditor’s report also concluded that based on a review of monthly invoices, progress reports and talking with Water Agency officials, Allen did in fact work with the city on the “planning, research and collaboration” of the general plan amendment as he was hired by the agency to do.
The county’s probe was sparked by concerns raised by Victoria Hogan, a retired government employee in Santa Rosa who was working for Pierce as a campaign volunteer last December when she said she requested information about Allen’s contracts from the Water Agency.
Pierce acknowledged having conversations with Hogan about the contracts but maintains that he had no involvement in Hogan’s efforts.
The audit report was based on a review of documents provided to Dole’s office by the Water Agency and interviews with Thompson and Allen. Under the heading of “Limitations,” the report states that due to the specialized and unique field of employer housing programs, “we did not address the sufficiency of the services and documents provided by Mr. Allen to the (Water) Agency.”
“If we had obtained the services of an expert in the field of employer housing programs, information may have come to our attention that could have materially changed our results and conclusion,” the report stated.
Dole, the ciunty auditor, on Thursday dismissed any concerns about his endorsement of Allen’s candidacy and his office overseeing the audit investigation.
“I endorsed Mr. Allen before I was ever asked to do this report,” Dole said. “If you want to look into the contracts, I welcome you to do so.”
Dole said his audit staff by charter can go directly to supervisors if they have concerns with how a particular audit is being conducted.
“I don’t believe there is an issue with the independence of this report,” he said.