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Friday, August 12, 2016

Outsourcing pre-judicial review of administrative processing

The following article, and the case which it reports, is not exactly about procurement. It does, though, inform the discussion about how to determine which activities of a government are legislatively determined to be governmental functions that must be performed by the government. The function in controversy here is the initial review of a contested parking ticket.

The article bringing this to light was flagged by the State Bar of California's Daily News Digest August 12, 2016, and appeared on NBC Los Angeles News online.

City of Los Angeles Ordered to Change Parking Ticket Dispute Process
The California Court of Appeal has ordered the City of Los Angeles to change the way it handles parking ticket disputes. A three-judge panel said the city can no longer outsource the handling of the initial reviews of parking tickets requested by motorists, but must do those reviews themselves. The appeals court’s decision, handed down this week, says the state vehicle code requires cities, not outside contractors, to conduct all initial reviews of parking tickets.
The case is Weiss v. City of Los Angeles. Pieces of the case reflected below are my own editorializing, and cut, rearranged, left out, paraphrased and otherwise altered and (mis)construed, as is my practice in this blawg. Thus, you are better served by reading the case in its entirely at the link.
In this appeal by the City of Los Angeles (City) and Xerox Business Services, Inc. (Xerox,) we consider whether the City, as the “issuing agency” for notice of parking violations in the City, must conduct the “initial review” of challenged citations, or whether it may delegate that duty to Xerox, its “processing agency”. [The decision in the case required interpretation of the complex statutory scheme, which had evolved over time. As is the case with many such statutory evolutions, some genes change, some stay the same and some just disappear, making the interpretation process more complex than a simple reading of a single statute might suggest.]

Weiss got a parking ticket, which he contested. After an initial review performed by Xerox, Weiss received a letter advising him that an initial review had been performed and the citation would not be cancelled. [There followed a round-about means of getting the issue before the court, interesting for those studying writs of mandate, standing and the like, but not germane to this post, which is more about the question, how to determine if a particular governmental function can to delegated to a private contractor. Thus, I limit the discussion here to:"Weiss’ claim that the initial review process, as currently constituted, did not comply with the statutory obligations of the initial review under the Vehicle Code".] Since 1985, the City has contracted with Xerox to act as its processing agency. As part of Xerox’s processing duties, the City delegates the duty to conduct the initial review of contested citations. Xerox is paid based on the number of parking citations processed per month, but does not receive additional compensation to conduct initial reviews. Xerox performs the initial reviews through its Parking Violations Bureau (Bureau), which is staffed by a subcontractor. In fiscal year 2013, Xerox conducted 135,291 initial reviews [constituting about 5% of citations processed].

The initial review is conducted by Bureau clerks, who must adhere to 46 Business Processing Rules (BPR), drafted by the City (or by Xerox and approved by the City). When considering a contested citation, the Bureau clerk refers to the applicable BPR, if any; if that BPR permits dismissal of a citation, the clerk dismisses it. If no BPR addresses the particular challenge, but a motorist has presented sufficient evidence to overcome a citation, clerks are instructed to refer the matter to a supervisor for a decision. The motorist learns the result of the initial review through one of 97 form letters drafted and approved by the City, on City letterhead, sent to the motorist by Xerox.

The trial court below concluded that, setting aside the issue whether Xerox was authorized to conduct the initial review, the City’s system of initial review complied with the Vehicle Code requirements in the scope of the review, in the fairness of its procedure to the motorist, and in the fairness of its substantive decision-making process.

The question at issue in this appeal [and this post] is whether the state vehicle code requires that the City, as the issuing agency, conduct the initial review, rather than its processing agency, Xerox. In its ruling, the court below reviewed the statutory framework, its legislative history (including pertinent existing, amended and repealed Vehicle Code sections), and case law. Conceding that the question was close, the court concluded that legislative changes in 1995 to the statutory scheme reflected the Legislature’s intent to place a nondelegable duty to perform the initial review on the City, the public agency that issues parking citations.

The 1993 revision maintained the prior definition of a “processing agency”; ‘processing agency’ means the contracting party responsible for the processing of the notices of parking violations and notices of delinquent parking violations. It also contained an amended version of section 40200.5, which preserved the issuing agency’s authority to contract with a processing agency (“an issuing agency may elect to contract with the county, with a private vendor, or [others] . . . for the processing of notices of parking violations and notices of delinquent parking violations....

Prior to the 1995 revisions, the legislation allowed an issuing agency to contract with a processing agency for the processing of notices of parking violations, including investigating the circumstances of the citation and conducting the initial review as well as giving the processing agency the authority to make the decision whether to cancel the citation.

The 1995 revisions repealed the previous statutes which had expressly provided that the processing agency may conduct initial reviews, and gave the processing agency the authority to investigate challenged citations. It enacted a new provisions assigning responsibility for conducting the initial review to the “issuing agency,” giving that agency the authority to determine whether to cancel the citation, and requiring it to inform the processing agency of its decision, further eliminating any reference to the authority of the “processing agency” to conduct the initial review.

Legislative deletion of an express statutory provision “‘is presumed to effect a substantial change in the law’ [citation].” (Barajas v. City of Anaheim (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 1808, 1814.) Considered in their entirety, the 1995 changes strongly suggest that by repealing section 40200.7 and former section 40215, and replacing them with a new section 40215, the Legislature intended to give sole authority to conduct the initial review to the issuing agency, and to preclude delegation of that duty to the processing agency. No other rational explanation comports with the breadth of the modifications eliminating references to the processing agency’s authority.

But, the 1995 revisions did not amend section 40200.5 to directly reflect the elimination of the processing agency’s authority to conduct the initial review. Thus it remains that the issuing agency could contract with a processing agency “for the processing of notices of parking violations and notices of delinquent parking violations, prior to filing with the court...." This might be read in isolation, without considering the 1995 changes, as suggesting that the issuing agency may contract with the processing agency to conduct the initial review because that review occurs before the judicial review.

However, given the history of the relevant statutes as we have traced them, it is unreasonable to assume that by failing to amend section 40200.5, the Legislature intended to retain the authority of the processing agency to conduct the initial review and undo the changes it so clearly made in the 1995 amendments.

The 1995 changes deleting any reference to the processing agency’s authority to conduct the initial review, compel the conclusion that the issuing agency (here, the City) must conduct the initial review, and cannot delegate that duty by contract to the processing agency (here, Xerox).

There are, at least, a couple of procurement questions that jumped out at me from the case. First, recall that Since 1985, the City has contracted with Xerox to act as its processing agency, and is paid based on the number of parking citations processed per month, but does not receive additional compensation to conduct initial reviews. I cannot believe that if another contractor held the contract for processing parking citations, that Xerox (or any other contractor) would conduct the initial reviews "for free", recalling again there were 135,291 such initial reviews conducted in 2013. I wonder what the cost of doing that "free" work would be if contracted out to another party, and if that "free" work is actually paid by inflated prices or costs in the "processing" portion of the work.

Second there is an aspect of Guam Procurement Ethics law that stands out. This "free work" is given as part and parcel of getting actual paid work. It is not a gratuity as typically defined because there is nothing paid to a particular person, and no particular person is benefited. But under Guam Procurement Ethics law (5 GCA § 5630(d)):
It shall be a breach of ethical standards for any person who is or may become a contractor ... to offer, give or agree to give any employee or agent of the Territory or for any employee or agent of the Territory to solicit or accept from any such person or entity or agent thereof, a favor or gratuity on behalf of the Territory whether or not such favor or gratuity may be considered a reimbursable expense of the Territory, during the pendency of any matter related to procurement, including contract performance warranty periods.

For purposes of this Section, a favor is anything, including raffle tickets, of more than deminimus value and whether intended for the personal enjoyment of the receiver or for the department or organization in which they are employed or for any person, association, club or organization associated therewith or sponsored thereby.
Guam legislators are (most of the time, on whole) sensitive to "buy in" and bundling and other evils that diminish competition and stain the integrity of the procurement system and undermine the peoples' trust in government.

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