Tojo Thomas

May 2, 2012 | Tojo Thomas, an Alameda County probation officer, challenging long-time Supervisor Nate Miley, laid the burden of proof for the county’s recent spate of scandals squarely on the incumbent during a candidate’s forum this week in Castro Valley.

Although, Thomas, a newcomer to county politics, was woefully short on specifics, he deftly turned the spotlight on Miley on a host of controversies ranging from the supervisor’s involvement with the demise of the Associated Community Action Program, the hiring of disgraced chief probation officer David Muhammad to receiving campaign donations from a local cannabis club in his district.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the growing number of scandals coming from county government these days,” said Thomas, who immigrated from India in 1992. As a probation officer in Alameda County since 2000, Thomas is clear his expertise is limited to public safety. On several occasions, Thomas said he would supplement his knowledge by surrounding himself with knowledgeable staff, but more often the spotlight was on Miley throughout the 50-minute forum last Monday at the Castro Valley Library.

Miley, who is often easily animated when attacked, was no more agitated then when dealing with a question pertaining to the bankruptcy of ACAP starting in February 2011. Although, the executive director and her husband were charged by the Alameda County District Attorney earlier this year for mismanaging the anti-poverty program, the role of Miley and other locally elected East Bay city officials is not yet clear.

“It’s not my job to micromanage. It’s not my job to do the everyday operations of the organization,” said Miley, “I only know what the executive director is telling us. I discharged my responsibilities. There were other members of the board who should have been discharging their responsibility.”

“When it comes to a non-profit organization, if there’s $500,000 mismanaged,” countered Thomas. “I’m going to micromanage.”

“If someone wants to say I was responsible for ACAP,” said Miley. “I stand accused.”

Later, Thomas revealed Miley, a long-time advocate for medicinal marijuana in the unincorporated areas, received a large donations from one of the two cannabis clubs in District 4. “He received $10,000 from a cannabis club,” said Thomas, “so, he’s going to support that. It’s against my integrity to accept donations from cannabis clubs.” Thomas said he favors its use for treating patients, but is against misuse of prescriptions and, what he called, profiteering by some clubs in the county.

“I take money from everybody and vote against them, if necessary,” said Miley, who called the war on drugs a “fiasco” and said any prohibition on cannabis will ultimately “hurt people who really need it” to kickstart their appetite and pain relief.

A non-specific question dealing with the county’s probation department also allowed Thomas to heap another county scandal on Miley. Not to be outdone, though, some Thomas supporters later claimed the moderator from the League of Women Voters was attempting to limit questions on Thomas’ bailiwick of public safety when he said admitted wariness from asking four questions dealing with probation since he felt it presented a conflict of interest due to Thomas’ employment with the department.

However, the query instead became an indictment of the county’s once-heralded hiring of David Muhammad, the former county chief probation officer, who was place on administrative leave last February after an employee alleged sexual harassment and assault against him. A report last week said Muhammad penned a news article 15 years ago under a pseudonym where he admitted wanting to kill another person as a teenager. The news may shed light on the county’s vetting of Muhammad, who was hired in 2010.

“If I wrote an article that I wanted to kill someone, I would never be hired,” said Thomas. “For the county to hire someone with such a poor background, that was just a slap in our face for some of us who work to keep our backgrounds clean.”

Miley disagreed and said Muhammad’s background and personal story made him a shining star and that the county, indeed, did a thorough vetting of Muhammad. “He is a good example of someone who we thought could be a role model,” said Miley, and “a change agent.”

“Mr. Muhammad was thoroughly vetted,” Miley added. “We did with him what we do with all of our county hires. Unfortunately things happen.”

The issue of criminal justice realignment is also a major issue in county politics. Relying on his role as probation officer, Thomas, was blunt, if not somewhat alarmist, in his assessment of the governor’s plan to transfer low-risk parolees to county jails. “Criminals are coming to our neighborhoods and we should all be nervous about this,” he said. “These are not safe people.”

Miley, though, sounded more confident in the county’s comprehensive plan for public safety, he said, has been crafted by six separate county agencies and encompasses not only policing, but health care for parolees, housing and specific achievement plans to help ex-cons to thrive in the general population. “We’re doing what we can do with the $9 million, but it’s not a zero-sum game, because the sheriff’s department lost about $20 million with realignment,” said Miley. “So, for someone to say we’re not doing a good job with the $9 million, I totally disagree.”