By Ken A. Epstein
Is the city retaliating against Pivotal Point Youth Services, which provides job training to low-income youth in West Oakland, after the Oakland Post reported on the city’s failure to provide timely payments to the agency?
The Post reported complaints made by Pivotal Points at public meetings of the Oakland Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and also reported that the program’s staff said failure to receive payments from the city had placed the future of the agency in jeopardy.
The failure to receive funding already has meant that most of the agency’s staff has stopped receiving salaries and are working as volunteers, staff members said.
“We are not in this for the money. We’re still here. We’re continuing,” said La Tronda Lumpkins, Pivotal Point’s executive director.
In a March 1 memo to city officials, WIB Director John Bailey said he was writing to set the record straight.
“The purpose of this memo is provide factual information in relation to certain points made in the Oakland Post,” he wrote. “Pivotal Point is the only agency mentioned or quoted in the Oakland Post articles.”
Facing lack of city funding, the agency has lost its business liability insurance, which Bailey pointed out.
Without this insurance, Pivotal Point is “conducting program activities in clear violation of their contract,” Bailey wrote. “A notice to cease activities pending correction is being issued at this time.”
According to Post sources, Bailey called Pivotal Point’s insurance carrier to find out if the agency had insurance. At that point, the nonprofit was still operating under a one-month grace period from the insurance company.
Lumpkins responded for Pivotal Point in a March 4 email message to Mayor Jean Quan and the City Council.
“Mr. Bailey’s memo is in keeping with the WIB staff’s unfortunate practice of blaming the youth service providers for situations that have, in fact, been created by the WIB staff. I am a bit dismayed as I would prefer to see Mr. Bailey spend his time improving Oakland’s Workforce System instead of persecuting its service providers.”
“The WIB executive director’s pattern has been to retaliate against organizations that appear at WIB meetings to complain,” said Lumpkins, who added that Bailey had not sent her a copy of his March 1 memo.
Lumpkins claimed that, prior to Pivotal Point difficulties, Scotlan Youth and Family Center in West Oakland had lost its contract after speaking out at a public meeting.
“As a result of these two situations alone, (federally funded Workforce Investment Act) services to youth in West Oakland have almost entirely been curtailed, she said. “Please be reminded of the very reason why Oakland receives workforce funds, to serve youth and adults to enable them to be successful in today’s labor market.”
In his memo responding to the Post, Bailey wrote that the contracts for agencies that started on July 1, 2012, were “executed Nov. 29, 2012 with the exception of two; one for YEP (Youth Employment Partnership), (and) one for Lao Family Community Development, which were executed on Dec. 5.”
Responding to Pivotal Point’s complaint that it was providing services for months but not receiving reimbursement, Bailey wrote, “This statement is only partially correct.
“The Youth Contracts are Performance Based contracts, which have five set benchmarks. As those benchmarks are met, the agencies may invoice and receive payment.
“Pivotal Point has consistently underperformed and has not been able to realize the full value of their contracts.”
According to Lumpkins email, “WIB staff fails to point out that payment points are based upon the youth’s performance of work experience and diploma acquisition which require the youth providers to advance funds that they have not received – a perfect Catch 22.
“This is the third year in a row that contracts have been issued between 6 and 9 months into the fiscal year. These years coincide with the city assuming responsibility as system administrator for (federal job) funds.”
The city’s failure to pay has created crises at Pivotal Point, Lumpkins wrote,
“Inability to pay, retain and reward experienced staff; inability to pay fixed operating costs –i.e., rent, insurance, taxes; inability to complete performance-based contracts within the fiscal year under contract; the most egregious impact: diminished services to low-income youth in Oakland.”
Bailey also responded to assertions that agencies requesting 20 percent advances had not received them.
“Advances were not part of the original contracts. This issue was voted on in Youth Council in November 2012 and ratified by the full WIB,” he said.
As of this month, advances “have been approved and are presently in the signature phase,” Bailey wrote.
“Advances which enable performance to begin have not yet been executed,” wrote Lumpkins, who added, “They were previously approved by the WIB and promised by the WIB staff.”
In an interview with the Post, Peter Roos, chair of the board of Spanish Speaking Citizen’s Foundation, another of the nonprofit agencies receiving funding, the city appears to be moving to stop funding small agencies that cannot afford to cover expenses until the city starts paying. “They seem to only want to work with the large outfits that front the money to the city,” he said.
No youth agencies have been paid so far for the year starting July 2012, more than eight months ago, according to Post sources.
Pivotal Point and Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation were among 16 organizations and individuals who signed a complaint on Dec. 17 regarding a “failed” RFP (Request for Proposal) process conducted by the Workforce Investment Board.
The complaint said the impact of the process “has been to deny the basic principles of fairness and a ‘level playing field’ to all potential bidders and to significantly contaminate their morale and interest in the process.”
The complaint also asked that, “Safeguards be established by the city to prohibit retaliation by any member of city/WIB staff.”
John Bailey told Post staff that he was doing the Mayor’s wishes.