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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Muni Instructs Employees How to Contact Whistle-Blower Program Following SF Weekly Story on Muni Whistle-Blower

Posted By on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 11:30 AM

click to enlarge LaVonda Atkinson
  • LaVonda Atkinson

The current edition of SF Weekly tells the tale of LaVonda Atkinson, the cost engineer for the Central Subway project who blew the whistle on "unprofessional, unethical and inaccurate" accounting practices.

"Your article," she told us, "is gonna get me fired."

Well, not so fast.

This morning Muni HR director Donald Ellison sent an e-mail to "All Staff." Its subject line: "Whistleblower Program."

Ellison's e-mail was brief: "Please see the attached memo for more information regarding the Office of the Controller's Whistleblower program."

Our message for Ellison hasn't been returned, but sources within Muni say this is no coincidence -- and it's a positive sign that Atkinson's next career move may be of her choosing after all.

See Also: How the Central Subway project buries millions in a deep, dark place

LaVonda Atkinson
  • LaVonda Atkinson

Atkinson backed up a number of disturbing allegations with thorough detail. Among them:

• A Muni official, in writing, acknowledges plugging a "make-up #" into a federally reported document in order to maintain the desired total budget: a "make-up #" $30 million off from the data within that very document and $43 million greater than the prior month's reported total;

• Atkinson claims she was instructed to override computer formulas and manually reduce cost variances to zero -- obscuring millions of dollars of month-to-month reassignments of budgets and expenditures, often on projects completed as long ago as 2010. As such, budgets are retroactively altered to match actual expenditures, and then the alterations themselves are hidden by zeroing them out;

• There is a $40 million gap between the figure Muni reports to the city controller and what it reports to the Federal Transit Administration regarding its spending on preliminary engineering;

• A $17.1 million computer program purchased, explicitly, for budgeting the Central Subway project is going unused -- in favor of Microsoft Excel.

Today's e-mail from Muni's head of HR essentially instructs department employees how to blow the whistle on all of the above (and God knows what else) should it be necessary.

SF Weekly called Tonia Lediju, the director of the city controller's whistle-blower program, to see what protections extend to city contractors like Atkinson -- and what reparcussions would befall a contracted agency that retaliates against a whistle-blower.

Her reply is pending.

Atkinson isn't expecting much; her understanding is that city law only protects city workers. She is currently on a leave of absence: "I felt wrong going into work when we're ripping off the taxpayers."

Asked what she'd like to happen, she laughed and said it's never too late to consider a career in academia.

More when we know more.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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