Time for a Facilities Maintenance & Construction Audit is Overdue

Posted on July 8, 2015


If you’ve been following the bouncing ball regarding recent revelations concerning the court construction & facilities maintenance programs from post to post AND if you are a long time reader of both AOC Watcher and Judicial Council Watcher there should be no doubt whatsoever in your mind that there are very serious problems in both the court construction and facilities maintenance programs.

We know that from the disclosures made by whistle blowers and others way back in AOC Watcher days that there were serious problems with the facilities maintenance program and that the leadership of this program has barely changed in the six or so years that this program has been in effect.

While they should have performed a clean sweep of all management, we had essentially one step down from a director position before court construction and facilities maintenance were split and one senior manager take a long term medical leave. This caused the elevation of middle managers who were a big part of the problem being elevated into senior management ranks and with them came their really expensive, really bad ideas, like taking the few people who did the work out of the field to chase down a prospectors award.

Today, facilities management in the judicial council remains purely reactive because they focus all of their money and resources on being purely reactive instead of being proactive. The bottom line is that being purely reactive costs exponentially more than being proactive in facilities maintenance. Unlike the federal government, California’s Department of General Services and even the services provided by many counties directly to the courts, there are no longer onsite facilities maintenance personnel full-time in many courthouses. This has been supplanted by one person being responsible for millions of square feet of courthouse facilities maintenance who are relying on overseeing expensive contractors to propose costly solutions and being used to facilitate these services on a sole-source regional basis.

No other governmental entity responsible for facilities maintenance and operations does business this way. Absolutely no one.

But then again, nowhere in the United States will you find any judicial branch entity performing an executive branch function of facilities management and facilities maintenance except here in California and that my friends is a big part of the problem. Not only is judicial branch facilities maintenance roped in to the judicial branch budget but that money is not nearly enough to really do the job. Worse, the Judicial Council continues to make catastrophic decisions about how what little money they get will actually be spent.

Judicial council facilities maintenance overseers on the court facilities advisory committee on the judicial council themselves are not privy to the big picture. Led by Justice Brad Hill, they have no clue about how other governmental entities maintain their facilities and can’t explain why it costs nearly 4 times per square foot more than other entities for the judicial council to maintain a courthouse when deferred maintenance is factored in.

This alone is an important reason for the State Auditor to go in, audit the programs and make the recommendations that we believe that they will make to move all facilities management over to the executive branch where it belongs, where the work will get done and where it will cost less.

This move alone will cut the judicial council staff by 30% because all the support staff will no longer be required to support these programs. Construction and facilities maintenance support staff exist in every division of the AOC and are charged against the monies allocated for court facilities maintenance and court construction, yet perform a plethora of work outside of those boundaries because there’s really not a lot to do in support of these items. But they exist as line-item accounts that the judicial council can charge against to expand their own programs.

The major impediment to an audit of court construction and facilities maintenance remains the fierce lobbying of the state buildings and constructions trades council on the Judicial Council’s behalf. Perhaps they don’t realize that moving these services over to DGS by way of an audit is in their own best interests. It seems to us that breaking off facilities management of courthouses and making it an executive branch function would transfer that work to an agency that would be getting better funding to support it, be getting the work done, employing more of their members and engaging a wider variety of contractors. It does not take a rocket science degree to figure this out so perhaps we should be lobbying the SBCTC  for an audit and highlight the issues.

A more prominent side effect of this transfer of responsibilities would be that judges and commissioners would no longer be under undue pressure to convict or not reduce fines due to the direct impact these convictions currently have on their own budget. Sure, one can advocate that judges and commissioners would never do that but all one has to do is sit in Taylor Culver’s courtroom in Oakland and listen to his summation of what people can expect and why when they’re arraigned, which typically includes “don’t ask for a reduction in fines because the judicial council stripped judges of that discretion”