Bakersfield

Calif. AG backs allies, opens probe into Kern Co.’s COVID contract nixed over ‘Defund Police’ statements

The decision by Kern County Supervisors to withhold approval of a $1.2 million coronavirus communications contract to a Kern County PR firm and Bakersfield outpost of Building Healthy Communities is attracting attention from California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Last October, Kern County Supervisors rejected a $1 million contract to Building Healthy Communities, who served as general contractor alongside the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Jakara Movement, Faith in the Valley, and South Kern Sol, for community outreach related to COVID-19.

Bonta has deep ties to Huerta Foundation namesake Dolores Huerta, regularly partnering with the United Farm Workers co-founder on policy initiatives while in the California State Legislature.

Beyond the $1 million set – and ultimately rejected – for nonprofits, an additional $250,000 was meant to be directed to Adelante Strategies, a public relations firm with deep ties to BHC.

The contracts, agreed to in principle with the Kern County Department of Public Health, were ultimately scrapped when Supervisors raised objections over “Defund the Police” messaging targeting the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Kern High School District Police Department.

The messaging was disseminated by the Kern-based Building Healthy Communities via Facebook over the summer amid the riots resulting from the death of George Floyd.

Those comments came as the chief of Fresno’s Building Healthy Communities expressed support for rioters in Minneapolis.

A subpoena sent by California’s Department of Justice sought documents related to the nonprofits in the aborted October contract along with contracting and hiring practices.

Kern County Counsel Margo Raison told The Bakersfield Californian that the County is cooperating with investigators and expects it to be cleared of any perceived wrongdoing.

“We are confident the practices of the County are in keeping with all Federal and State laws and regulations and anticipate the investigation will so conclude,” she told the newspaper.

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.