Foster youth service comes out on top in Placer County contract wrangle

Supes send message to staff to honor successful pacts with service providers
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County supervisors have sent a strong message to staff that they don’t want contracts terminated without justifiable cause.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to overturn a recommendation from the Health and Human Services Department’s Children’s System of Care and not approve a $480,000, two-year contract for its foster youth independent living program with the Placer County Office of Education.

In doing so, board members upheld a plea from the current contractor Unity Care of San Jose to not break a two-year contract that still had a year to run.

With Supervisor Jack Duran saying he was “shocked” and “disappointed” with staff’s direction and Unity Care CEO Andre Chapman telling the board that the wrangle exemplified why the public doesn’t trust county government, the board made a rare break with staff on a contract recommendation.

Richard Knecht, the Children’s System of Care client services director, was on the receiving end of criticism as chief staff presenter at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The division’s recommendation was for a transfer of the contract July 1 to the Office of Education. About 230 foster youths or former foster youths ages 15 to 21 are provided with assistance and life-skills training as they transition into the adult world.

“I’m sorely disappointed, really disappointed,” Duran said. “And I’m shocked Mr. Knecht how you can treat this contract as if it was a contract for lawn care and justify it because we can terminate the contract, we can do it. That’s exactly what I heard. I’m really disappointed the way this went down.”

Duran said part of his disappointment rested in his understanding that Knecht and his division didn’t talk with Unity Care to see if there was a way to collaborate with them before taking steps to implement a new contract with the Office of Education.

“I have a real problem with that,” Duran said.

Knecht said that Unity Care had met with all contractual goals but that the county’s $202,000-a-year contract with the firm allowed a 30-day cancellation without cause. The move to the Office of Education partnership was predicated on a continuum of service that was based on a smoother delivery of services, including a better integration with the education office’s occupational training programs, he said.

“The reality for our youth is that a very small percentage of our youth are engaged in (occupational programs provided by the Office of Education),” Knecht said.

Supervisor Robert Weygandt said he was also troubled by the proposed contract cancelation but voted in favor of it.

“I’m not in the business of second-guessing the judgment of staff,” Weygandt said.

Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said that she was concerned with the message that agreeing with the staff recommendation would have to future potential contractors with the county. Supervisor Kirk Uhler said that even with the ability to cancel a contract, doing so should be “reserved for the extraordinary.”

“If you challenge the status quo you must first show the status quo is deficient,” Uhler said.

With a show of support for a Placer County contract that had been in jeopardy of being dropped, Unity Care’s Shane Libby, a program manager with the service, said the firm is happy with the outcome. Whether Unity Care will have a chance to bid on a new contract in another year is still uncertain, she said.

“All we wanted was for county to honor the commitment the county had signed,” Libby said Wednesday. “We didn’t want them to disrupt services unnecessarily for our youth. We’re sorry it took so long and everyone had to go through this process but we’re happy with the outcome.”