Measure A Campaign Organizer First in Line for Measure A Money

UPDATE: More than 50 speakers presented their case for grant money Tuesday, but the Board of Supervisors decided to approve staff recommendations on how surplus Measure A money is doled out. Among all the residents, staff and supervisors to speak on the matter, none mentioned the fact that Kathleen King—the No. 1 ranked grantee—ran the Measure A campaign.

Kathleen King ran the county's $450 million sales tax campaign, and she also happens to be CEO of the organization most likely to get leftover money from Measure A. So, coincidence or kickback?

It’s hard to say considering it’s still not altogether clear what the Healthier Kids Foundation (HKF) will do.

A spreadsheet sent out by county chief operating officer (COO) Gary Graves in advance of Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting places King's bid for HKF as the No. 1 most deserving of county funds. While she requested almost $6 million over the course of 10 years to help fund her recently rebranded organization, the county is recommending a two-year agreement for $1,168,200.

What makes the bid’s top ranking somewhat concerning—besides the fact that King ran the Measure A campaign—is that HKF has a relatively undefined mission since its recent rebranding. As San Jose Inside documented in a series of articles published last spring, much of the operating costs for King’s health foundation in recent years went toward paying executive salaries and organizing political campaigns rather than enrolling low-income children for health coverage.

Anticipating a surplus of $9.6 million in sales tax revenue for the fiscal year, the county Board of Supervisors decided last fall to put the money up for bid. Nonprofits across the South Bay were invited to submit proposals for the money, and 92 requests were received. The proposals covered the gamut, from violence prevention and homeless outreach services to cultural-specific programs and job training.

One bid that was all but certain to be submitted came from King, a former mayor of Saratoga and head of the Healthier Kids Foundation (HKF), which until last summer was known as the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation. For more than a decade King’s foundation had helped the county provide health coverage to low-income children in a collaborative effort. The program was wildly successful. So successful, in fact, that in recent years the county Health Plan began to phase out King’s foundation, as it no longer needed help to pay for insurance premiums.

When Measure A passed, King’s foundation was rendered irrelevant.

Knowing what lay ahead, King started work in 2011 on the county sales tax campaign with Cindy Chavez—then still the executive director of the South Bay Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA—and VMC Foundation director Chris Wilder. Months after Measure A passed, Chavez would run for and win the seat left vacant by George Shirakawa Jr.’s resignation and subsequent conviction.

Records obtained by San Jose Inside and Metro newspaper through a court order showed that King used public resources to help organize not only the Measure A campaign but also her brief run for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors. (Another email showed Chavez wanted to sue San Jose Inside and Metro newspaper. All around good times.)

An inspection of King’s current proposal reveals that the organization’s rebranding is designed to secure funding so it can piggyback off the work of the county and other nonprofits.

Of the four programs it plans to implement, “10 Steps” appears to be one of the few original ideas coming from HKF, although it will be done in partnership with nonprofit First 5. HKF’s current website lacks a detailed description of the 10 Steps program, noting that details are coming soon. But the bid King gave to the county notes that a 4.5 hour, three-class series will promote healthy eating habits, at a cost of $200,000 annually.

The other three programs in HKF's bid focus on tracking the work of other organizations—First 5, DentalFirst, Impact Alabama, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the city of Morgan Hill—that are funding efforts to increase health, dental and vision coverage for uninsured children.

In a sense, HKF is designed to provide an additional safety net for parents too lazy to follow through on getting their kids proper care—and keep King employed.

King has been aggressive in pitching her new foundation—as previously noted she has been taking a number of meetings with elected officials—and her foundation made an investment that could now see a sizable return. Santa Clara Family Health Foundation, the predecessor to HKF, contributed at least $215,000 to the 2012 Measure A campaign committee.

If awarded the grant money noted in the county's rankings, King's foundation would receive more than a 5 to 1 return on that investment.

Graves, the county COO, said in an interview with San Jose Inside that King’s role in running the sales tax campaign, as well as support from her former campaign colleague Chavez, has had nothing to do with HKF’s grant ranking.

“The rank list has nothing to do with Board (of Supervisors) input,” Graves said. “It only has to do with the analysis that we did as an administration.”

That administration, he said, consists of himself and four other top-level county executives: Bruce Wagstaff, head of the Social Services Agency; John Vartanian, director of child support services; Rene Santiago, a deputy executive for the Health and Hospitals System; and Gary Herceg, director of pre-trial services.

“Our goal is to look at these proposals and attempt to determine … what is going to produce the outcomes that are positive for the community,” Graves said. “In this particular case there was consensus amongst the individuals on the committee that this organization had the potential to deliver positive results.”

While it's unknown if King met with any of these men, a review of public calendars shows that during the first few months of the year, Chavez is the only county supervisor to meet with every person on the committee that set up the rankings. In fact, none of the other four supervisors met with Herceg or Vartanian.

Measure A money has already accounted for $20 million that went to the general fund to maintain service levels, Graves said, and $15.3 million to support other projects like Healthy Kids, which provides insurance to low-income children in the county, and the District Attorney’s office.

Other entities such as School Linked Services, Goodwill, Sacred Heart, the Law Foundation and Bill Wilson Center round out the top-17 ranked proposals, which could account for the $9.66 million in surplus revenue.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.


  1. This seems to happen alot in this city, I am very new to city politics but this seems like a conflict of interest.

  2. I disagree… i think people care… but simply don’t know what to do about it. Revolt? Riot? One place to start would be to speak up at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting at 9am.

    • And that’s the problem. Board of Supervisors meetings at 9:00 AM. Meetings should be held in the evenings so the hard working people can actually attend.

  3. This is like the episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza rips off his coworkers at Kruger Industries with his “Money For People” charity. Our county supervisors are the equivalent of the clueless boss, Mr. Kruger.

  4. “In a sense, HKF is designed to provide an additional safety net for parents too lazy to follow through on getting their kids proper care” What a stupid, insensitive thing to say.

    • Stacey,

      Great to see you’re a reader of SJI! Hope things are going well at the South Bay Labor Council.

      But if you’re going to target that sentence, it’s important to include the end note about how this whole foundation was created—and to some extent Measure A was created—to keep Kathleen King employed on the taxpayer dime.

      Thanks for reading,


  5. Kathleen King is well-known to be a self-serving person of low integrity. The above article outlines yet another example of this over her career. This is especially pathetic, as she seems to use children’s health issues for her own notoriety and financial gain. Any venture that involves Kathleen King should be avoided.

  6. Look who is on the committee… ANOTHER “high ranking” County Exec.. John Vartanian, who is CURRENTLY being investigated – two separate investigations, I might add… people should be looking at that as well… most politicians seem to be all about personal gain, ways to scam the money from the citizens. Now WHO is making decisions/recommendations should be looked at by all those considering handing over millions of our hard earned tax payer dollars so that someone can put it in their own pockets, not in the hands of those children it was intended for… just as John Vartanian has appeared to do. We should stop letting $$ decisions go to those who have proven that they can’t be trusted with it!

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