Capitol Alert
By Adam Ashton
aashton@sacbee.com
April 13, 2017 – 5:16 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday asked the state Department of Justice to investigate California’s troubled Board of Equalization and severely restricted the tax agency’s ability to do business.

In a letter sent to the board’s five elected members, The Democratic governor announced the tax agency will not be able to hire key personnel or issue most contracts without approval from other state departments he controls.

His letter also announced his intent to ask the Human Resources Department and Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate complaints from civil servants as well as an alleged misuse of public resources.

Brown’s letter follows a recent audit from the Department of Finance that found the Board of Equalization had allowed its elected members to “redirect” staff for promotional events. The audit found the agency could not explain how it corrected accounting failures identified in a 2015 audit.

It described reports from employees who feared they’d lose their jobs if they displeased elected officials. The report also suggested that board members inappropriately “intervened” in administrative decisions, creating inconsistencies that are “contrary to state law.”

“The board exists to serve the public, and the report highlights the extent to which it has fallen short,” Brown wrote.

Two Democratic board members – Fiona Ma and state Controller Betty Yee – have asked Brown to strip the board of its authority. Both of them endorsed Brown’s letter.

“This is about accountability,” Yee said.

“Based on my two years here, I have found and come to the conclusion that we must put in place real checks and balances, accountability and a willingness to be transparent,” Ma said.

The board is scheduled to meet on Monday in a closed-session meeting to discuss potential lawsuits and personnel changes.

“Our actions in the next few weeks are going to be very important,” said board member George Runner, a Republican who wants his colleagues to address the audit on their own. “It’s important that we don’t try to find scapegoats, that people try to find responsibility, and we create roles and guidance for board members.”

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