Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Olga Zurawska
David Morris 

Dead Bodies, Conflicts of interest & Fat Salaries: The Murky Waters of City's Social Services

In a community with Urgent Needs, Santa Monica Social Services Commission Isn't a Social Club or a Hobby

 

John Maceri, Executive Director of The People Concern

I have serious concerns about the qualifications and performance of the Santa Monica Social Services Commission, and particularly its Chair Mr. Parent, as well as the staff liaison Ms. Yavari, whose job it is to assist the commission in fulfilling its responsibilities under the law.

Chair Parent seems to be uninformed about the role of the Commission he is chairing. He stated on social media, "We are a volunteer, independent citizen's commission that works to educate itself and think about social services in the city." It seems Mr. Parent is under the impression that this is a social club where the members attend to their hobby rather than work on the pressing and demanding social service needs of the community. This commission is not meant to be a venue for dilettantism or leisurely pursuits. Certainly not when a Santa Monican has recently died apparently due to the negligence and incompetence of a social service provider contracted by the City.

The Santa Monica Municipal Code is clear on the purpose, powers and duties of this Commission. It mandates that the Commission "prepare an annual assessment for the City Council on the extent to which agencies and programs of the City, County of Los Angeles, and other entities are achieving goals and objectives for social services."

We know that this commission has not prepared the required annual assessment for at least five years. Per Mr. Parent's statement, the Commission was not even aware of this requirement, and was not advised of it by the City's Human Services Manager Ms. Yavari or City Attorney Ms. Dilg for years.

Recently I filed a complaint with the City about the lack of the required assessments. I received an anonymous answer glossing over the violation of the law and advising me that the Commission would now be reviewing the existing ordinance language to best align it with the current and future powers and duties of the Commission.

This appears to be Ms.Yavari and the Commission's attempt to change the good law that has been in existence for 38 years in order to avoid abiding by it, and in particular fulfilling the requirement to produce annual assessments. This assessment is one of the main and most important duties of the Social Services Commission that the Council should be able to rely on presently and going forward.

The very idea that the Commission would attempt to manipulate the existing law instead of abiding by it and producing the mandatory assessments is beyond comprehension. It is not the Commission's role to change the good and necessary existing laws in order to avoid responsibilities and the duties of the Commission.This is a serious transgression and an attempt at abuse of power by Chair Parent and Ms. Yavari. The assessment is mandatory now and for years to come to continuously and properly assess the performance of the social services. The ordinance mandating the annual assessments was established for a reason, to serve the needs of the community, and it is not Mr. Parent's or Ms. Yavari's place to alter it in order to lighten their workload.

Recently on social media Mr. Parent praised Mr. Maceri for all his alleged upstanding work towards the homeless including praising his personal character. This shows favoritism and impropriety on behalf of the City's Social Services Commissioner who is expected to be unbiased and not have direct connections to private organizations funded by the City.

The fact that Chair Parent is also co-chair of the Homelessness Steering Committee together with Mr. Maceri is another example of improper relations between City commissions and private City-funded organizations.

All commissions need to be free from any influence by any organizations that receive funding from the City since City commissions are able to advise the City Council on disbursing funding to such organizations. John Maceri's main goal is to continue receiving public funding from the City for his organization and Chair Parent appears to be Mr. Maceri's path to influence the City Council and its funding decisions.

Any appearance of conflict of interest is reason enough for Chair Parent to step down so that there is transparency in the City government.

On January 22, 2019, after hearing the testimony of advocates and The People Concern clients, the Santa Monica City Council hesitated to extend the funding for the organization and directed City staff to listen to the community and come up with solutions how to address the complaints against The People Concern.

A request for a meeting between advocates, community leaders and City staff was sent to the Human Services Division so that there could be an exchange of ideas and a clarification of certain issues surrounding the complaints about The People Concern. Three weeks later Human Services Manager Ms.Yavari answered stating that she did not think a meeting at this time would be productive as the City had no new information to share with the community. Further, Ms. Yavari stated that the City would take the previously received feedback into consideration in developing its recommendations to Council.

The fact that City staff ignored the Council's directive to listen to the community, and now Ms. Yavari is refusing to meet with advocates and community leaders, shows a lack of concern for addressing the issues. Apparently Ms. Yavari, who is paid staff, thinks herself to be above the directives of an elected governing body of the City. We live in a democracy, not a Third World country where the government is not held accountable by the citizens. Requests for meetings like this should be welcome and sought out by competent staff. Since when do we allow staff members to run the City contrary to the directives of the governing body?

Setareh Yavari, City of Santa Monica Human Services Manager and the Commission's staff liaison

It is important to point out that the reported egregious problems with The People Concern have been allowed on Ms. Yavari's watch to begin with. Ms. Yavari as the City's Human Services Manager has failed to make sure that the Social Services Commission fulfill the requirement to produce annual assessments of social service programs. Ms. Yavari as the Human Services Manager has continued to disburse public funding to the organization despite credible long-standing complaints about the organization, abysmal monitoring reviews by LAHSA and abundant photographic evidence of the unsanitary conditions the organization allows at Samoshel - a facility located on City land.

As a resident of Santa Monica I do not believe Ms. Yavari's past performance as the Human Services Manager justifies her continued employment with the City. The low-income, disabled, senior or homeless Santa Monicans who rely on the City's social services deserve to be under the authority of a professional, hardworking and conscientious Human Services Manager. Then as taxpayers we might be able to justify the Human Services Manager's estimated salary of $200,000 per year.

Editor's note: The above comments were delivered as pubic comment before the Santa Monica Social Services Commission on 2/26/19.

 

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