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Southern California center serving disabled put on probation

Jan 24, 2011 --- jchang@sacbee.com PUBLISHED SUNDAY, JAN. 23, 2011

The state Department of Developmental Services has placed on probation the largest of 21 publicly funded regional centers serving developmentally disabled people, saying it illegally used state money to develop housing, violated the center's contract with the state and circumvented a statutory freeze placed on rates paid to care providers.

The department sent a letter dated Jan. 19 about its actions to the center's board in Southern California.

Its demands include requiring the center to complete an inventory of all state property it maintains, analyze all purchase-of-service funds used for housing services and improve "the culture within the organization which has discouraged employees from raising issues for fear of intimidation and retaliation." The department demands most of the corrective action be completed by March 31.

The letter followed a Jan. 2 Bee story investigating the real estate practices of the regional center - which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties - and its nonprofit housing affiliate, the California Housing Foundation.

Department spokeswoman Nancy Lungren said the center's failure to comply with the letter's demands could produce punishment ranging from further warnings to the termination of its contract.

"These are very serious matters, and (the department) will work with Inland Regional Center to ensure that it comes into compliance," Lungren said.

Center Executive Director Carol Fitzgibbons said she and her board will review the letter next week but wouldn't address the letter's criticisms.

"We recognize there are issues," Fitzgibbons said. "We recognize there are things in the past that have to be corrected. And we're all working, the board and the department, to resolve this."

Critics of the regional center system say its lack of transparency presents a significant risk for misuse of money. The regional centers, which are all nonprofits, received $3.4 billion in public funding in the last budget year to serve about 240,000 people.

As described by The Bee story and the department letter, the Inland Regional Center committed to paying the California Housing Foundation up to $450,000 to develop 15 bungalows in the city of Moreno Valley. They were never built.

The department letter, obtained by The Bee on Saturday, says that funding "was provided contrary to the law which prohibited regional centers' use of purchase-of-service dollars for start-up funding."

The letter also echoed an August report by the Bureau of State Audits listing complaints within the center of "fear of retaliation, favoritism, conflicts of interest and nepotism in the awarding of regional center funding."

Among its demands, the department letter requires "a review of all rates negotiated from July 1, 2008 to present."

The center's board president, LaVesta Locklin, said she is committed to transparency in working with the state. The center distributed the department letter to its many service providers shortly after receiving it Friday, she said.

"Whatever they ask us to do, we will concentrate on doing it and correcting it," Locklin said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

 

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