Merced County Executive Officer Jim Brown said employees from the Human Services Agency will stop filming videos for a national organization after a Merced Sun-Star article revealed the practice.
The videos – which were produced, shot, edited and directed by county employees – featured content that included gun violence, fighting and drinking. They were created for a national association with no ties to Merced.
“We will not be making videos in the future for (the National Staff Development and Training Association),” Brown confirmed on Tuesday. “We support the participation, but there’s a balance to that participation.”
The videos also recently prompted Brown to review a contract between HSA and the Merced County Office of Education. The contract allows HSA employees to receive compensation through the MCOE and get their regular salaries from the county. Brown said he wants to make sure no double compensation occurred.
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In the NSDTA videos, dozens of Merced County employees from the Human Services Agency were seen singing, dancing and playing various characters in at least five videos shown at NSDTA conferences and trainings. Merced County HSA Director Ana Pagan serves as the NSDTA president.
In the most recent video obtained by the Merced Sun-Star, titled “Leader, Leader,” Pagan and her team take on a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” theme. As with other videos, they act out scenes in costumes, while singing and dancing inside the HSA building.
Pagan said the videos didn’t cost county taxpayers a dime, but a Sun-Star records request showed nearly $6,700 was spent on editing, producing and shooting the videos since 2008, in addition to more than 160 hours of staff time.
Pagan said her staff used vacation hours to participate. Some of the videos were 25 minutes long and starred more than 20 employees at one time.
Brown said Tuesday the decision to quit making the videos was a “collective” one reached by him and Pagan. The county’s top administrator previously told the Sun-Star he was “concerned” about the content of the videos, as well as the amount of time and county resources poured into creating them.
Pagan did not return calls for comment. In a previous interview, she defended the videos by saying the county’s participation in NSDTA led to training opportunities for her staff.
Brown said Thursday he’s still reviewing the department’s contract with the Merced County Office of Education.
The contract is under scrutiny because it appears that nearly 20 of Pagan’s employees – including the producer of the videos, Cesar Vera – received their HSA salaries and compensation from the MCOE contract. Though Brown said there appears to be no double dipping, he’s taking a careful look at the contract.
“We have learned that there are employees that contract to provide parenting classes through MCOE,” Brown said. “We’re working with the department to determine that there’s no double compensation taking place.”
Merced County Superintendent of Schools Steve Gomes said the MCOE contract in question is one of six with the Human Services Agency. Gomes said HSA employees teach the parenting classes in the evenings and on weekends.
“The benefit in using HSA employees is that you have people that are already doing this work during the day and are trained,” Gomes said. “It’s a challenge to find people with lots of different skill sets.”
But Brown said MCOE will likely not be allowed to contract with the HSA for the parenting classes in the future. “We are reviewing the practice and finding alternative methods through other staffing,” he said. “We’re working with the department to ensure that the perception does not exist that it’s inappropriate.”