Orange County Register Blog
June 7th, 2011, 3:53 pm · posted by Kimberly Edds, Staff WriterA dozen county employees, including a county librarian who walked away in tears, told the Board of Supervisors today they felt betrayed after revelations by a county auditor that top county executives received double-digit raises while hundreds of county employees were being laid off and furloughed.
Five politically connected employees of the County of Orange, including a Santa Ana city councilman and a member of the Santa Ana school board, were promoted by the county and several were given multiple raises that added up to as much as 33 percent in less than six months, public documents and interviews show.
The county’s assistant chief executive officer and three of the four deputy CEOs all benefited from the multiple raises. Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante was promoted to executive manager overseeing O.C. facilities even though his own boss admitted he is unable to perform a portion of his job because it conflicts with his position with the city.
County auditors described a human resources system where rules were unevenly enforced, breeding an apathetic culture where HR managers largely stopped trying. Auditors, acting at the direction of county supervisors, identified 58 cases in which state and county human resources rules were broken or best practices were simply ignored.
County Chief Executive Officer Tom Mauk said in an interview last week that there was nothing improper about the raises and promotions.
But few agreed with that today.
“This is the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in my 39 years with the county,” said Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association. Union members urged supervisors to immediately rescind the questioned raises and promotions and bring in a third-party to review them. But that idea was rejected by supervisors.
The Board can order the pay of executive managers to be reduced in certain instances, County Counsel Nick Chrisos told supervisors, but raises, promotions and benefits given to members of the county’s unions cannot be taken away.
The criticism of the county Human Resources department, released last month in a report by county Performance Auditor Steve Danley, has exploded into a firestorm, with Mauk and Danley trading pointed accusations.
But that hostility was all but shelved as supervisors peppered Danley with questions about the audit process. Human Resources Director Carl Crown sat in the back row of the board room Tuesday. He was never called to the podium to answer any questions about the audit’s findings.
The Board of Supervisors created an ad hoc committee to review the audit’s findings and report back to the board on corrective action. The committee will be made up of Mauk, Danley, Crown, and Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Pat Bates.
“We’re going to fix this,” Nelson said. “It’s not going to be a witch hunt. We’re going to fix this.”
The Orange County Register used the state’s public record laws to obtain internal county documents that put names and faces on upper-echelon county employees whom the county’s performance auditor says received unjustified raises and promotions.
The county’s CEO released the names of employees last month following a request under the California’s Public Records Act. The names were accompanied by explanations from the CEO and Human Resources of why each raise and promotion was given and the authority under which they were granted.
But Danley said that more than a third of the provided explanations are inaccurate and directly contradict county documents.
The Board of Supervisors created the Performance Auditor in 2008 as a kind of watchdog to look into issues for the board. It was supervisors who requested the Human Resources Department be audited.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson asked Danley if there was anyone who did not fully cooperate with auditors and if so, Nelson wanted their name.
“Yes and no,” said Danley, adding that information was not provided to auditors near the end of the audit. He did not name anyone specifically, but in a June 1 memo requested by Chairman Bill Campbell, Danley said 27 of the 65 explanations of human resources actions provided to the Register by the CEO were inaccurate. Those explanations were never provided to auditors despite “numerous” opportunities for Human Resources to explain their actions, Danley wrote.
“We felt like we have been duped,” said Pamela Waters, who oversees collections for overdue county library books. “We feel like there are two counties – one for the insiders and a very different county for the rest of us.”