Some uncertainty remains in two senior citizen programs partially funded by Inyo County – the Senior Legal Program and the Ombudsman Program.
A conflict of interest situation led to the end of the long-time legal program for senior citizens in Inyo and Mono in recent weeks. Now, Inyo County has gone back out to bid to try to find a lawyer to handle the program.
Senior citizen problems over foreclosures, social security, medicare, landlords, banks and many other issues often found resolution under the legal program partially funded by California Indian Legal Services. Inyo County usually contributed around $20,000 per year. This year when the program went out to bid, only CILS submitted a proposal. An employee stood up during public comment at an Advisory Council meeting to explain why the program needed more money – more desperate times and more seniors in need.
The Advisory Council to the Board of Supervisors did recommend a funding increase. Inyo Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner had recommended a lower funding amount. She reported to the Supervisors about the Advisory Council meeting and plea for higher funding. Turner said County Counsel Randy Keller saw a conflict of interest with an employee lobbying for higher funds for her agency while also sitting on the Advisory Council.
Turner said new by-laws for the Advisory Council will no longer allow sub-contractors like CILS as members. This will eliminate conflicts. Do Advisory Council members understand the conflict of interest issue? Turner said there was a workshop on it at one point.
County Counsel Keller said that even though an employee of an agency may be the only one with knowledge of funding needs, they can’t talk to the Advisory Council about it as long as they sit on the same Council. Keller said the conflict of interest law is a very serious matter and carries criminal and civil aspects. Keller said, “It’s kind of unfortunate in this case.” He said the employee did not mean to violate any laws and that the long-time program has been a good service.
The big question – what about service to seniors in the future? That’s an unknown right now as Inyo County waits for proposals from local lawyers.
On another senior citizen issue, the Inyo Supervisors awarded the Ombudsman Program to California Indian Legal Services. Long time provider, Ombudsman Advocacy Services lost out. A six person independent review panel had given CILS a higher score.
Pat West of Ombudsman Advocacy said their group would appeal. Health and Human Services Director Turner said they did appeal and a hearing has occurred. She said no decision is yet out.