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Newsom appoints new top watchdog to oversee BART

BART customers sit and wait for a train at Powell Street Station in San Francisco on Nov. 17, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed BART’s assistant inspector general to head the Office of the Inspector General after her boss took early retirement amid clashes with transit agency officials.

Claudette Biemeret was named to a four-year term as inspector general, responsible for maintaining independent oversight of the agency’s finances and practices. She replaces Harriet Richardson, who left March 17, five months before her term was to end.

The Office of the Inspector General has repeatedly battled with transit agency officials since its creation in 2018 and “is significantly underfunded and unable to fulfill its mission of uncovering waste, fraud and abuse,” according to an Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report published in September.

BART said Biemeret’s name was one of three submitted to Newsom as a possible successor to Richardson, who was appointed the first inspector general in 2019.

“We at BART are grateful to the governor for filling this vital position with a highly qualified professional so quickly,” BART General Manager Bob Powers said in a statement. “The inspector general plays a very important role in maintaining the integrity of government through preventing and detecting fraud, waste, and abuse.”

READ MORE: Lawmaker Pushes Criminal Penalties for Obstructing BART Oversight as Top Watchdog Quits

State Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, who resigned from a Senate committee on public transit in February in protest of BART’s fiscal oversight, said Biemeret must get more cooperation than her predecessor.

“To be able to fulfill her duties, she must have the full power to root out waste and abuse,” Glazer said in a statement. “The previous inspector general resigned, in part, due to the refusal of BART to give full access to data and whistleblowers.”

Richardson declined to point to any specific reason for her early retirement, instead suggesting that the civil grand jury report and other publicly reported spats between her office and BART management provided sufficient evidence.

Critics of BART’s financial management have repeatedly cited an Office of the Inspector General report from Feb. 3, which found that the agency spent some $350,000 on a homeless outreach program that resulted in just one confirmed unsheltered resident entering substance abuse treatment.

The civil grand jury’s report compared the size of BART’s inspector general’s staff, with just three employees, to the inspector general’s offices at transit agencies in Los Angeles, which has almost 25 employees, and Washington, D.C., which has almost 45 employees.

Voters across the Bay Area created the Office of the Inspector General in 2018 when they approved Bay Area Regional Measure 3, which reserves $1 million in toll revenue each year to fund the office.

In its official response to the grand jury report, BART disagreed with all six of its findings that the Office of the Inspector General was underfunded, understaffed and regularly impeded by BART management.

Biemeret, of Santa Rosa, has been assistant inspector general at BART since 2020. The Governor’s Office said she served as audit manager for the City of Berkeley from 2014 to 2020.

The BART inspector general supervises the independent oversight of all BART activities and operations, including independent audits and investigations. The Office of the Inspector General reports its findings to BART’s nine-member Board of Directors, the state Legislature and the public.

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