Did Vision y Compromiso Play Role in Conrad Bárzaga’s Demise?
PALM SPRINGS — A nonprofit organization, based in El Cerrito, some 485 miles from Palm Springs in Contra Costa County, appeared to gain significance during the four-year reign of Conrado Bárzaga, public records show.
Based on initial research during the past five weeks, it appears that Vision y Compromiso, the non-profit that employs his wife, has been involved or has directly received more than $1.5 million in contracts or grants since his tenure began. This non-profit never received a contract or grant prior to his tenure.
In 2018, Bárzaga was a featured speaker at Vision y Compromiso’s annual conference: http://residency-ncal.kaiserpermanente.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Promotores-Resources-Maria-Lemus.pdf
Established in 2000, Visión y Compromiso (VyC) is a nationally respected organization committed to improving the health and well-being of underrepresented communities, according to its website. Vision y Compromiso got its first contract from DHCD in 2020.
Were ties to that organization the proverbial straw, or was it his expense reports and outside activities as outlined in our Monday report, or conflicts of interest that led to Bárzaga’s downfall? Or all of them?
One source who asked not to be identified alleged that Bárzaga was “arrogant” and “traveling and spending money like a drunken sailor.” Much of his travel and expenses are included in our Monday report. In addition to those expenses, Uken Report has learned that he spent more than $1,000 for the 60th Anniversary Dinner for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest in San Diego and then spent $5,000 of his discretionary funds to be a “Host” with his wife for the 60th Anniversary Riverside Reception in Palm Springs. His wife is on the board of directors of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.
Barzaga started as CEO of DHCD in August 2019. His contract had specific clauses pertaining to “outside activities” and expenses. Those two items alone could have toppled him, but did they?
The Board Policy Manual also addresses Conflict of Interest on page 41. At one point, the District’s legal counsel reached out to the Fair Political Practices Commission for advice: https://ukenreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/barzaga-must-recuse-on-contracts.pdf.
Dr. Barzaga has a disqualifying financial interest under Section 1090 and therefore must entirely recuse himself from any part of the grant process involving Vision y Compromiso, according to the FPPC.
Yet, Bárzaga and Visión y Compromiso had at least one fancy meal for $298.78 at Pacifica Seafood and billed it to the District. Although the District indicated in its communication to the FPPC that the CEO had no interaction with VyC, this expense report may suggest otherwise. In at least one instance, it seems Barzaga was present for discussion that involved Visión y Compromiso in some way.
Melinda Cordero-Bárzaga, Conrado Bárzaga’s wife, is the associate director for Visión y Compromiso. It is located at 2536 Edwards Ave., which is a house, in El Cerrito, according to Tax forms.
In a letter dated Sept. 26, Maria Lemus, executive director of Visión y Compromiso, requested the board to “reconsider (its) decision and reinstate Dr. Bárzaga as CEO.” Some questioned whether such a letter was even ethical given that the organization employs his wife.
Notice there is no phone number or address on the letterhead. Unusual for a nonprofit that relies on charitable giving.
The beginning of the relationship with Vision y Compromiso (VyC) began in the fall of 2020, as a result the COVID-19 pandemic, Chris Christensen, interim CEO and chief administrative officer, told Uken Report.
“Our CEO was working with the county – Riverside University Health Systems to coordinate CARES and ELC funding from the federal government for purposes of COVID testing, education, and ultimately, vaccination,” Christensen told Uken Report. “There were eight community-based organizations (CBO) identified as recipients of pass-through monies. VyC is one of the original eight CBOs. The original grant received was $1,200,000 by the Foundation, of which VyC received $120,000.”
Bárzaga was the person that suggested VyC on Aug. 17, 2020 through a HARC meeting. HARC sent a list of organizations that should be invited to discuss community engagement surrounding COVID-19. Bárzaga adds several organizations at the bottom of the first page and highlights them in yellow. In a telltale move, the initial list is in alphabetical order and the highlighted ones are not. VyC is one of the groups on his list.
As one person familiar with this issue said, “The conflicts of interest are just alarming. They better hope a grand jury isn’t investigating them.”
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