San Bernardino County this week renewed its contract with the controversial Sacramento-based lobbying firm Platinum Advisors, extending the arrangement for the firm to provide legislative advocacy for three years.
Platinum Advisors, which counts among its employees former state assemblyman Brett Granlund, will be paid $655,200 for its work for the county from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2014. The contract carries with it two one-year options to extend the contract at an annual cost of $218,400.
San Bernardino County has contracted with Platinum Advisors, which was founded by and is still led by Darius Anderson, for legislative advocacy at the state level since 2003. It is Granlund’s association with the firm that has led to adverse publicity over the county’s ongoing relationship with the company.
In 2007, Los Angeles-based attorney Leonard Gumport at the county’s behest investigated the county’s acquisition of the Adelanto jail, making a finding that Granlund and Platinum Advisors, violated the terms of the county’s contract with Platinum by engaging in a conflict of interest and failing to give the county prior written notification of Platinum’s clients. One of those clients was Maranatha Corrections LLC, which is owned by Terry Moreland. Platinum, through Granlund, solicited the county to enter into a $43 million lease and option to purchase the Maranatha Prison in Adelanto, which was owned by Maranatha Corrections/Moreland.
According to Gumport, who had been hired to look into several instances of alleged corruption of county government, neither Platinum nor Granlund informed the county that they were representing the sellers, and the county entered into the purchase agreement without knowing about or being informed of a mold condition at the facility that resulted in additional costs of several million dollars to the county. That sale took place even though an “as is” appraisal reflecting the actual current value of the jail had not been completed, such that Platinum and Granlund had failed to protect the county’s interests.
In January 2005, when the board of supervisors voted to approve the lease and option to purchase the facility, the board had not been informed that Granlund and Platinum had advised and represented Maranatha in marketing the jail to county representatives, including then-county sheriff Gary Penrod, county real estate director David Slaughter and then county administrative officer Mark Uffer.
Granlund had previously involved himself in a questionable purchase of county property that allegedly benefited one of his close political associates, Jim Foster, who was at that time the chief of staff to then-supervisor Dennis Hansberger.
In 2001, after San Bernardino County barred its officials from directly purchasing county land or doing so through an intermediary, Foster did just that, using Granlund as his agent. Foster had become interested in a four-tenths of an acre residentially zoned parcel with mountain and valley views located adjacent to Wabash Avenue and Sunset Drive in Redlands, which the county had acquired in 1981. According to county records, Foster made an inquiry about a potential auction of the property in an e-mail exchange with a county property agent in 2001. After the property was put up for bid but not widely advertised, Foster used his authority as Hansberger’s chief of staff to instruct the property agent to again put it up for auction.
In 2001, at Foster’s direction, Granlund and his wife, Lonni, together with Louis and Amy Curti, purchased the property at that auction. In 2002, Foster and his wife, Linda, purchased the Granlunds’ portion of the property for $10,000. In 2004, the Fosters and Curtis sold the property to George Saunders and Donald R. Paulson for $100,000, netting Foster a profit of somewhere near $40,000.
In 2005, when the matter became public, Foster was suspended from his post as Hansberger’s chief of staff and later was forced to resign after acknowledging he had violated county policy. No charges were filed against Granlund, though Foster maintained that Granlund had knowingly cooperated with him in the scheme to obtain the property.
Current county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux and the county’s deputy legislative director Josh Candelaria did not dwell on the controversies that had beset Granlund and Platinum Advisors in the past in recommending to the board of supervisors this week that they extend the contract with the lobbying firm for another three years.
“The county of San Bernardino utilizes advocacy services at both the federal and state levels to advance the county’s legislative agenda,” Devereaux and Candelaria wrote in a report. “Approval of this item will approve a contract with Platinum Advisors for three years. County Policy 11-05 requires board of supervisors approval for services in excess of $100,000. On September 14, 2011, a request for proposals was released, advertised through the county’s purchasing website and circulated to numerous state advocacy and public affairs firms. The request for proposals process garnered responses from Platinum Advisors, Chabot Strategies, LLC, and Forte, LLP. An interagency evaluation committee, which included representatives from the county of San Bernardino, San Bernardino Association of Governments, and Riverside County, evaluated the responses and recommends this contract based on the expertise demonstrated by the incumbent in the proposal.”
Devereaux and Candelaria continued, “Founded in 1998, Platinum Advisors is a full service government affairs firm that has experience in lobbying the California Legislature and executive branch. Since 2003, the county has received policy and fiscal benefits from the legislative advocacy services provided by Platinum Advisors in Sacramento. More specifically, Platinum Advisors was instrumental in advocating for a county-sponsored bill that waived over a million dollars in fines and penalties imposed by the State Department of Water Resources. Additionally, Platinum was active in defeating a burdensome airport land use commission bill that would have eroded local authority and cost the county approximately $400,000. New and persisting issues before the State Legislature this year, including realignment, healthcare and pension reform, decreasing revenues, aging infrastructure and high unemployment remain high priority issues for the county of San Bernardino. Dedicated and effective representation with state administration, agencies, departments and associations is critical to ensure the county’s legislative agenda is advanced.”
Devereaux and Candelaria concluded, “In coordination with the county administrative office, Platinum Advisors will assist the county in developing and implementing an effective state advocacy strategy to increase funding opportunities and influence state law and policies as they relate to county priorities, programs and operations.”
The county of San Bernardino in 2010 ranked seventh among the 12 largest California counties in annual state lobbying expenditures. The $240,000 paid to Platinum Advisors was exceed by Los Angeles County, with $1,021,956 in legislative advocacy costs; Riverside County, with $384,011 in legislative lobbying costs; Orange County, with $321,143 in legislative advocacy costs; San Diego County, which pays $311,927 for lawmaker lobbying in Sacramento; Alameda County, which shells out $279,166 for legislative advocacy; and San Francisco County, which pays $270,000 for lobbying state legislators. Among the state’s larger counties that paid less than San Bernardino County for lobbying service in 2010 were Contra Costa County, which spent $220,000 for state lobbying efforts on its behalf, as did Ventura County, which paid $186,665 for the same service; Sacramento County, which paid $152,157; San Mateo County, which budgeted $147,500; and Santa Clara County, which pays its state lobbyist $127,336 per year.
County spokesperson David Wert told the Sentinel “You are free to characterize Platinum Advisors as controversial, but that is not the county’s opinion. Brett Granlund may be a controversial figure but that does not make Platinum Advisors a controversial firm.”
With regard to the county’s purchase of the Adelanto jail, Wert said, “If anything questionable occurred, it was that he [Granlund] should have told the county he was working for Maranatha in representing them on the sale. Any controversy about that died out five or six years ago.”
And there is a firewall between Granlund and the county at Platinum advisors, Wert suggested. “Brett Granlund is not one of the people at Platinum Advisors who represent the county,” he said.