A high-ranking Santa Clara County official was placed on paid leave Thursday in the wake of a report that pointed to widespread dysfunction under his watch.
Don Moody, the public administrator/guardian/conservator, was escorted out of his office, sources tell San Jose Inside. County spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell confirmed that Moody was relieved of his duties for the time being but declined to elaborate.
“He’s out on leave, and it’s a personnel matter," she said. "That's all I can say."
Moody came on board nearly six years ago as head of the Public Guardian’s office, a branch of the Social Services Administration (SSA) that takes financial control of adults who are unable to care for themselves and with no family or friends to care for them. His termination comes weeks after the another local official—John Vartanian, director of the Department of Child Support Services—was placed on paid leave for racking up travel rewards using public money.
During his tenure, Moody’s department has repeatedly come under scrutiny by the media, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury and internal audits.
A grand jury report out this summer—the second in as many years—noted that Moody fails to track the amount of work and number of clients he handles. The people he hires to manage clients’ property don’t go through a thorough background check, the report found. Instead of having a panel of experts determine whether to assume control of a person’s estate, effectively revoking their civil rights, the decision lies with one person. And for years, countless referrals from the court have reportedly fallen through the cracks.
The latest grand jury report was spurred by a complaint that the office mishandled a case in which a client died before being conserved by the county.
“The grand jury’s inquiry into this case led to a broader examination of the safety net provided … for seniors who are not able to advocate for themselves, have no one else to advocate for them, and whose cognitive abilities are severely compromised,” the report explains.
Adults fall into court-ordered public conservatorship after the Public Guardian determines that they cannot make personal, financial or health decisions without risk to their wellbeing; are at risk of being abused; or when no family or friends can step up as caregiver. Many people referred are mentally ill or incapacitated.
As of August, the inventory of client’s assets in care of the county totaled $62.8 million. That’s in addition to personal property and valuables kept in a warehouse. Yet new hires, who look after clients’ estates, go through only a cursory background check. No fingerprints, no exhaustive records search.
In a formal response to jurors, Moody agreed with most of the findings. Sources within the department say that he always agrees, though—he just hasn't done anything to fix them.
“When I came in there, I had people telling me to stop working so hard,” a former Public Guardian employee tells San Jose Inside. “There is such inefficiency in there, but they want it that way. Ignore the problems so you don’t have to fix them.”