‘I can’t deal with this’: BART’s inspector general resigns slamming agency on way out

The inspector general tasked with investigating fraud and waste at BART will resign next week, leaving behind a bitter relationship with the transit agency’s leaders and a bevy of audits spanning allegations of wage theft, conflicts of interest, and opaque spending.

“There comes the point where you just say, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore,’” Harriet Richardson told the Bay Area News Group in an interview on Thursday, saying the agency, backed by BART’s staff, board, and unions, undermined her oversight by restricting access to documents and employees.

She is leaving the BART’s Office of the Inspector General with four and half months left on a four-year term.

Richardson’s departure comes as BART faces a dire financial shortfall. The agency needs to rally the Legislature behind a difficult push for a new taxpayer subsidy, even as the state faces its own looming budget deficit.

But as BART pushes for money it says will stave off drastic service cuts, Richardson’s departure underscores deep division on providing enhanced oversight at the agency. State Sen. Steve Glazer is leading calls to tie any new BART funds to a strengthened inspector general’s office.

The senator has introduced new legislation that grants BART’s inspector general the same oversight powers afforded to the Caltrans inspector general.

BART is “probably the least effective agency I’ve worked for” when it comes to oversight, said Richardson, who previously worked as Palo Alto’s city auditor along with positions in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Washington state. Her advice to the next inspector general: “Stand firm, and do not let others try to break (you) down.”

Janice Li, BART board president, said she is now focusing on approving a charter for the next inspector general, which would clarify the auditor’s role at the agency, although Li was not ready to back Glazer’s latest legislation. She said the contentious relationship between Richardson and BART staff is due to vague wording in the legislation that created her office.

“Unlike last year, we are really going to have an open discussion,” said Li. “But it’s not the office of Harriet Richardson, we’re really looking at setting up the inspector general and the Office of Inspector General for the rest of BART’s existence.”

Glazer led the establishment of the inspector general’s office as part of an agreement to win his support for Regional Measure 3 in 2018, which raised Bay Area bridge tolls to fund transit projects.

Since then Richardson’s department has produced a number of audits, including one on a BART manager failing to disclose family ties to a company awarded a $40 million contract, another on an employee who secured $2.2 million in contracts shortly after leaving the agency, and a third on $350,000 spent on a homelessness program that resulted in just one confirmed person receiving its services.

But her department has also faced a “pattern of obstruction” from staff and major unions, an Alameda County civil grand jury report said.

Last year, Glazer sought to pass legislation to bolster the inspector general’s powers, but he said Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill at the behest of BART staff and unions. BART Director Rebecca Saltzman, who served as board president at the time, said the agency opposed the legislation over issues concerning the rights of BART employees to have representation by their unions during an investigation.

Related Articles

Transportation |

Editorial: BART and Newsom drove out the auditor voters had demanded

Transportation |

East Bay lawmaker blasts ‘open sore’ at BART, resigns from Senate committee

Transportation |

BART Board Director Lateefah Simon runs for Congress, hoping to replace Rep. Barbara Lee

Transportation |

Will Southern California rescue Bay Area transit? Hearing sets stage for multi-billion dollar budget battle

Transportation |

They said it: Riders want safer, cleaner BART

Richardson’s tenure at BART is not the only place where she has ruffled feathers. As the Palo Alto’s city auditor, she audited the city’s code enforcement program and faced discontent among her subordinates, including a pair of complaints that resulted in separate settlements with the city, according to reports in The Palo Alto Weekly and The Palo Alto Daily Post.

Richardson plans to retire and return to her native Washington state. “I’m going to focus on getting our two-year-old beagles trained,” she said. “They need some behavioral modification.”

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *