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BART inspector general to retire early after clashes with agency's management

Richardson's exit is 'complete surprise', board prez says
A BART train arrives at the Pleasant Hill BART station in Walnut Creek, Calif. on Monday, February 1, 2021.

Embattled BART Inspector General Harriet Richardson will retire from her position this week, officials with the transit agency said last Tuesday, months ahead of the end of her term in August.

Richardson informed the nine members of the BART Board of Directors in an email on March 3 that she would not serve out the rest of her term as the agency's top watchdog.

"I've decided to retire before the end of my term," Richardson said in the email. "My last day with BART will be Friday, March 17, 2023."

The Office of the Inspector General has repeatedly clashed with transit agency officials since its creation in 2018 and "is significantly underfunded and unable to fulfill its mission of uncovering waste, fraud and abuse," according to an Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report published in September.

The report also compared the size of BART's OIG, which has just three employees, to the inspector general's offices at transit agencies in Los Angeles, which has nearly 25 employees, and Washington, D.C., which has nearly 45 employees.

Richardson declined to point to any specific reason for her early retirement, instead suggesting that the civil grand jury report and other publicly reported spats between the OIG and BART management provided sufficient evidence.

BART board president Janice Li said Tuesday that Richardson's decision was a "complete surprise," as officials with the agency had been under the impression that Richardson would not seek another term as the inspector general but would serve out the rest of her current term.

"The board had been working on the recruitment and hiring process," Li said. "We were all set to have a great timeline to be able to bring someone on, ideally timed with her departure in August."

Li added that she hopes to "significantly augment" the OIG's budget going forward in an effort to properly invest in and prioritize the office.

Voters across the Bay Area created the Office of the Inspector General in 2018 when they approved Bay Area Regional Measure 3, which reserves $1 million in toll revenue each year to fund the OIG and ensure that BART is efficiently and effectively spending money.

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Richardson to be BART's first inspector general in 2019. She had previously served as an auditor with the cities of Palo Alto, San Francisco and Berkeley.

In its official response to the grand jury report, BART disagreed with all six of its findings that the OIG was underfunded, understaffed and regularly impeded by BART management.

In a statement Tuesday morning, State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) applauded Richardson's service in the OIG and supported the grand jury's assertion that she was routinely undermined and obstructed by BART management.

"Ms. Richardson carried out her work even when the BART Board and management were determined to undermine her investigations," Glazer said Tuesday. "They repeatedly refused to provide her office with the full power and authority that she requested to do her job."

"Given the circumstances, it doesn't surprise me that Ms. Richardson is departing before her term of appointment has ended," he added.

Glazer has made himself a foil of the transit agency, recently resigning from a select committee marshaled by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) for the purpose of ensuring the Bay Area's transit agencies are properly funded.

Glazer argued in his resignation letter from the committee that BART poorly manages taxpayer funds and that Bay Area officials routinely fail to hold the agency accountable.

Critics of BART's financial management have repeatedly cited an OIG report from Feb. 3, 2023, which found that the agency spent some $350,000 on a homeless outreach program, which resulted in just one confirmed unsheltered resident entering substance abuse treatment.

"As BART and other regional transit systems seek additional state funding to stave off upcoming fiscal problems, the legislature must ensure that these systems spend public resources responsibly," Glazer said in his Feb. 28 letter.

Glazer has also authored legislation, Senate Bill 827, that would bolster the BART OIG's authority, enabling the office to access "all records, files, documents, accounts, reports, correspondence or other property" belonging to both BART itself and its contractors.

The bill would make impeding that authority a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. State lawmakers could begin discussing the bill as soon as March 20, once it has been in print for at least 30 days.

Li thanked Richardson on BART's behalf for her service to the transit agency and said she has a "full-out commitment" to set BART's future inspector general up for success.

"We are really concerned about making sure that the Office of the Inspector General can keep doing their work," she said. "So we are trying to figure out ways to speed up the recruitment timeline.

Richardson said that she has already filed retirement papers with BART's human resources department and the California Public Employees' Retirement System, commonly known as CalPERS.

"There's a time when you say, 'enough is enough'," she said.

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