California

California prison agency spent $12,000 on retiring manager’s farewell party, records show

A California prison agency spent $12,000 in public money on a retirement party with hundreds of guests for a longtime manager early this year, according to spending records.

The Prison Industry Authority paid for food, equipment, supplies and luxury portable restrooms for a Jan. 25 luncheon for Chuck Pattillo, who retired from the agency the following week, according to a review of emails and spending records The Sacramento Bee obtained through a Public Records Act request.

Women in a prison culinary program prepared lasagna, salad and dessert for the event’s 300 guests. About two dozen agency employees took time out of two workdays to prepare a Folsom State Prison warehouse for the event, serve food and clean up the space, according to emails.

At least two government agencies opened investigations into the spending based on The Bee’s inquiries, according to the Prison Industry Authority. The records raise questions about the appropriateness of the spending, the use of the culinary program and the time the volunteers spent on the event.

The party’s biggest expenditure was the rental of two three-restroom stalls from Royal Restrooms, a company that describes its units as “upscale” and the “best units available in the industry” on its website.

Outfitted with rugs, flowers, artwork and mints, the stalls cost $5,731, according to an invoice.

Planners rented 30 tables, 300 chairs, heaters and serving equipment from El Dorado Hills Party Rentals for about $2,613.

Plasticware, coffee makers and decorative centerpieces for the tables cost another $2,121, the records show.

The food cost about $987, according to invoices and receipts. The party’s total cost was about $11,700.

Training inmates for careers

The Prison Industry Authority, which trains inmates for technical careers, declined to answer questions about specific expenditures and who authorized them.

It is overseen by the 11-member Prison Industry Board, which is led by California Secretary of Corrections Ralph Diaz. The governor and Legislature appoint the other members.

“This event and its expenditures are currently under investigation, including whether any of the expenses associated with it were appropriate to pay for with public funds,” agency spokeswoman Michele Kane said in an email. “In the event the investigation determines they were not, we will seek to recoup the funds and to hold those responsible accountable.”

The agency referred the spending to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Office of Internal Affairs after receiving a records request from The Sacramento Bee in July, the agency’s general counsel, Jeff Sly, said in August.

The agency initially denied The Bee’s records request, citing an exemption related to ongoing investigations, but reconsidered its request after a back-and-forth with The Bee’s attorneys. The state released the records last week.

Pattillo worked at the agency for 14 years. It sells goods and services to government departments and entities, and doesn’t draw money from the state’s general fund, according to an agency report.

Pattillo said in an emailed statement that he had told the chair of the Prison Industry Board in September that he planned to retire at the end of the year.

In the same conversation, he received permission for the Folsom Women’s Facility Culinary Training Program to prepare and serve the retirement lunch, he said in the statement.

The program participants didn’t end up getting clearance to serve the meal, resulting in staff volunteers serving it, Pattillo said.

He said expenses for the meal were initially charged to the women’s culinary program, but should have been charged to the Prison Industry Board.

“Accounting aside, the expenditures were appropriate,” Pattillo said of the spending on the meal. “To further the objectives of the culinary program and the interests of its participants, the (board) no doubt would have approved such expenditures for similar events honoring private-sector individuals or government leaders, such as the governor.”

300 guests at retirement party

Spending records don’t show any payments to the program for food preparation, just for ingredients.

Pattillo said he did not know about the event’s other expenses, and added that he does not consider a $5,000 outhouse a reasonable expense.

The invitation-only event included current and former executives and employees from CDCR, CalPIA and other state departments, along with members of Pattillo’s family and other guests.

Emails show the guest list grew to 300 people from an initial 200, requiring more volunteers.

Volunteers were asked to set up the event the day before the party starting at 10 a.m. The day of the party, they were asked to arrive at 10 a.m. and to stay as long as it took to clean up after the noon luncheon, with an estimate of late afternoon.

The volunteer hours weren’t limited to the luncheon and the day before. Organizers put in time planning the event, including several meetings and a dry run. Planners collected RSVPs and logged which type of lasagna — meat or vegetarian — each guest preferred.

Organizers borrowed sound equipment and a projector for presentations at the luncheon and cleaned up some of the agency’s Toyota RAV4s to shuttle guests to and from the warehouse where the luncheon was held. Marketing employees prepared a dozen posters with sketches of Pattillo.

Before the big day, organizers solicited donations by email from agency employees for gifts for Pattillo. The emails don’t specify what the gifts were.

The solicitation email said donations were strictly optional, but Prison Industries Manager Kelly Condon used stronger language in one email to a few employees.

“The luncheon is free,” Condon wrote. “Dig deep in your pockets for the gift you cheapskates.”

No alcohol was served at the event, per agency rules, according to invitations. A gathering was scheduled afterward at a brewery.

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Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. He covers taxes, pensions, unions, state spending and California government. A Montana native, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.
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