California State “Superintendent of Equity” Made $160,000 While Living in Philadelphia
January 10, 2022
Until recently, the California Department of Education paid Daniel Lee over $160,000 to serve as the state’s “Superintendent of Equity.” He was responsible for promoting social justice and racial equity within the California public school system. However, public outrage led to his resignation on December 14, 2021.
First, one may think that a high-ranking California public official would reside in, or at least have a connection to, California. However, Daniel Lee had no residence in California, and instead lived in Philadelphia, Pa. for his entire tenure as Superintendent of Equity, according to Politico.
The California Dept. of Education says that staff can “live elsewhere only under rare circumstances where out-of-state residency is required for the job,” but never explained why an exception was made for Mr. Lee. Politico also reviewed a resume from Lee but was unable to find any prior work experience in California or ties to any California school districts.
Lee also had little experience in the fields of diversity, equity, and inclusion. He is a psychologist, life coach, and self-help author, but never held any official positions related to equity.
Finally, the California Dept. of Education never publicly posted the job, as is their standard procedure for most openings.
So, California appointed a psychologist from Philadelphia to lead their equity efforts. While there are many questions regarding his hiring, one thing we do know: Lee is good friends with Tony Thurmond, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. They used to work together as social workers in Philadelphia. Lee even attended Thurmond’s wedding.
While Thurmond denies nepotism played any role in Lee’s hiring, the people of California deserve qualified leadership, and they certainly deserve more transparency.
New Orleans Police Officers Doing Chores, Racing Cars While on the Clock
January 11, 2022
New Orleans Police Officers seem to be everywhere – even in multiple locations at the same time – while being paid twice. We summarized this story in a column recently at Forbes.
What began as a simple salary data search on officers in the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has led to a months-long undercover sting operation and has recently ended with cop suspensions, a retirement, and further investigation by the FBI.
This past fall, after getting tipped off by a local resident using Open the Books salary data, a local news station set up an undercover camera outside one police officer’s home. The officer was recorded taking out the trash and walking his dog during the exact hours he was getting paid to guard the local fairgrounds on what’s known as a police detail shift.
In 2020, according to local news reports, about 600 NOPD officers, half their force, worked to earn a combined $9 million in extra compensation for detail duty such as patrolling local events and locations, including city fairgrounds.
Another NOPD officer, Todd Morrell, is a race car driver and allegedly pursued his hobby while on the NOPD clock. Fox8’s news crew found public data and even time-stamped video of Morrell racing a car at NOLA Motorsports at the exact same time he was listed as being on duty with the NOPD at a different location.
The reporters found a Facebook live recording of Officer Morrell acting as the race track’s master of ceremonies for the just-completed race’s trophy ceremony. At one point, Morrell announces himself as the first-place winner and presents himself with the first-place trophy. Morrel made $192,901 in 2020.
After Fox8 published its investigative pieces, Morrell submitted his retirement and served his last day as an NOPD officer on November 29. It’s unclear whether his work and his pay are under investigation.
Yet another officer, Sergeant Anthony Bakewell, was found by Fox8 to have worked an improbable 44-hour shift, starting on Valentine’s Day, taking only two hours off, and double-billing two overlapping hours on a detail shift at the Downtown Development District. Bakewell earned $166,219 in 2020.
With rising crime and an already understaffed police department, New Orleans needs its police officers to show up and act with integrity.
National Institutes of Health Spent Almost $500,000 to Study Gambling Pigeons
January 12, 2022
The rise of mobile sports betting has sparked a conversation about the effects of gambling on an increasingly-large population. Gambling can be a serious problem, and there are plenty of legitimate ways to spend money to help those struggling with addiction, like investing in mental health treatment and social services. There is even value in studying the causes of addiction – but pigeons?
According to Sen. Rand Paul’s 2021 Waste Report, the National Institute of Health (NIH) granted $465,339 to researchers at Reed College in Portland, Ore. to “create a token-based economy where pigeons are taught to gamble with slot machines.” The pigeons were provided tokens, and could then choose whether spend, save, or gamble them.
Researchers claim this study aids in the understanding of behavioral economics. The NIH never felt the need to explain how pigeons’ gambling habits relate to the gambling habits of humans. However, they did admit the study focused more on “laboratory models rather than practical applications.”
It is also unclear why this study ended up costing so much. While we’re not experts, pigeons and tokens probably come relatively cheap. What essential equipment and tools cost nearly half a million dollars?
If a researcher really wanted to better understand gambling addiction, they could collect data at a casino, conduct surveys of former and current gambling addicts, or perform randomized human experiments in a controlled setting.
All of these might yield useful results that could actually help those suffering from addiction. Instead, our government chose to fund a study on pigeons.
Throwback Thursday: In 1978, Hart Senate Office Building Budgeted for $48 Million, Cost $122 Million
January 13, 2022
Construction on the Hart Senate Office Building began in January 1975. A June 1972 estimate put construction costs at $48 million. But, when the building was completed in September 1982, it cost $137.7 million — $379 million in 2021 dollars.
It was for this reason that in March 1978, when the building was still being constructed and its price tag increasing, Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave the U.S. Senate a Golden Fleece award for wasteful and nonsensical spending.
At the time, the Senate had raised the price tag to $122 million — $336 million in 2021 dollars — paying for luxury features like a senators-only rooftop dining room — the third dining room for senators — and a physical fitness center when senators already have two other gyms they can use.
The plans called for using marble and bronze throughout the building where other, less expensive materials would do; excessive landscaping and artwork and wood paneling for senators' offices, alone costing $1.5 million.
“The addition of certain luxury features shows an arrogance on the part of the Senate that should make taxpayers livid with anger,” Proxmire said in 1978.
The cost kept increasing because of built-in incentives to spend, delays coupled with rising costs, and the addition of unnecessary luxury features, he noted.
“Considerable savings might have been made if construction contracts had included clauses to provide incentives for contractors to make every possible savings,” Proxmire said. “Instead, the contracts awarded by the Senate include a built-in incentive to spend since they provide a flat 6 percent fee for the project. This means no penalties for cost increases.”
“Ironically, the new office building is to be named for the late Senator Philip A. Hart — of all Senators the most averse to pomp or show,” he said.
US Will Spend $500,000 to Produce Russian TV Programs in Moldova
January 14, 2022
With Russia’s recent aggression towards its neighbor Ukraine, one might think the US would be investing in methods of containment to curb the influence of Russia in the region.
The Biden Administration is doing the opposite. The US Department of State’s Mission to Moldova is awarding a grant for $500,000 to create “Russian-language Television Series Pilots” in Moldova to promote the Russian language in the country.
According to a grant description from the State Department, grantees should create “entertainment and fiction programs on Moldovan television.” It also stipulates that “the grant recipient must solicit applications from emerging or established Moldovan and/or regional filmmakers, and creative studios.” The grantee also has the option to, “identify, obtain rights to, and air on Moldovan TV Russian-language content from independent producers in the region.”
So, half a million dollars is being spent to create and translate TV programs in Russian in Moldova.
Now, besides the fact that your tax dollars will be paying for Moldovan TV programming, there is an even bigger problem: the official language of Moldova isn’t Russian, it’s Romanian!
According to the World Atlas, only 11.25% of Moldovans speak Russian as their native language, while over 75% speak Romanian as their native language. While some Moldovans can speak and understand Russian, it is still considered a minority language, and most speakers are from older generations that still remember it from the Soviet Union. Younger speakers are now taught English as their second language.
With all the problems the US currently faces, should the government seek to address the lack of Russian TV programming in Moldova?
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.