BART’s embattled inspector general steps down six months early

Harriet Richardson, embattled inspector general for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, will retire Friday, six months before her term ends.

Richardson has been vocal during her tenure about obstacles she felt BART’s leadership had placed in her way as she worked to audit the transit authority that provides rail service from San Francisco’s suburbs into the city.

Richardson informed the nine members of the BART Board of Directors in an email March 3 that she would not serve out her term.

“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.”

Richardson, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June 2019, held out little hope that whoever replaces her will have an easier time.

“I would have hoped that the findings and recommendations in the Civil Grand Jury report would have made a difference, but based on BART’s response, I don’t think it will,” Richardson said. “I wrote a response to BART’s response, because I felt that BART’s response was a bit of, ‘nothing to see here, business as usual,’ or that they had fixed things that they hadn’t fixed.”

The Alameda County Grand Jury found BART’s board and management impeded the IG’s efforts to conduct independent oversight, including underfunding the office, in a report released in September. In addition, board members and management supported union efforts to limit OIG access to their members, according to the grand jury, which stymied OIG independence and the confidentiality of investigations.

“When compared with other urban transit agencies, BART’s OIG is significantly underfunded and unable to fulfill its mission of uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse. At its current level of funding, the OIG has a backlog of urgent investigations that it does not have the resources to undertake,” according to the grand jury.

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.

The position was created by voters in 2018. Richardson was the first inspector general.

Board President Janice Li said during Thursday’s board meeting that the board agreed with 90% of what was included in the grand jury report, including that it needed to dedicate more funding to the inspector general’s office.

Li also commended Richardson for her work saying she was “not sure BART would have identified the areas for improvement it did without her investigations.”

The board president added she will expedite the hiring process, because the board is deeply committed to making sure the inspector general’s office can continue doing its work.

Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Contra Costa, who re-introduced legislation vetoed last year that would bolster the office, said Richardson had found tens of millions of dollars in fraud, conflict of interest and wasteful financial practices despite the board’s obstruction.

Prior to BART, Richardson worked as the city auditor for Palo Alto, and before that as audit director for the city of San Francisco and the audit manager/deputy director in the city of Berkeley’s Auditor’s Office.

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