The Orange County Board of Supervisors are considering whether they should refer allegations of sexual misconduct against Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for a criminal investigation.
Bustamante, a onetime rising star in the local Republican Party, quickly resigned from his job as an executive in the OC Public Works department in October after county officials launched an investigation into the allegations made by about a dozen female employees. That seemed to be the end of the issue; Bustamante quietly departed and female workers involved did not file complaints.
That was until last week, when a report by Peter Hughes, director of internal audit, made its way to the supervisors.
The audit, which is being kept secret, features a four-page review of the sexual harassment allegations and official reactions. It has touched off a tense internal debate over who knew what, when they knew it and what they did about it. The debate apparently isn’t making top officials look very good, according to sources close to the situation.
By Tuesday, supervisors huddled in closed session to discuss the issue, listed as anticipated litigation, and had a heated discussion about the Hughes audit, according to the sources.
Several sources say the audit concludes that the county’s own investigations revealed problems about how the county bureaucracy reacted to allegations from employees that Bustamante was aggressively confronting female workers. The allegations triggered action only after workers sent anonymous letters to several news outlets.
In particular, County CEO Tom Mauk is under fire, because top officials at OC Public Works, such as Director Jess Carbajal, did nothing about allegations against Bustamante when they were first received from female workers.
There are questions about whether Tuesday’s discussion was legal, because there’s no threat of litigation on the matter, given that Bustamante has resigned and none of the female workers has filed a claim against the county.
Mauk and Supervisor Bill Campbell were in Washington, D.C., this week talking to U.S. Treasury officials about pension plan changes and didn’t attend the session. According to sources, Supervisor Janet Nugyen pressed her colleagues to delay action until Mauk and Campbell’s return.
Tuesday’s briefing apparently rattled Supervisors John Moorlach, Shawn Nelson and Pat Bates when County Counsel Nick Chrisos presented arguments that Mauk had badly handled the situation. There were indications Wednesday that Chrisos was backtracking.
Chrisos has apparently been asked to prepare a referral of the matter to the DA’s office. Supervisors will vote on it Monday.
Meanwhile, Mauk is under pressure to fire several high-ranking officials, including Carbajal and Human Resources Director Carl Crown, who announced his retirement in May after a salary reclassification scandal.
Coming soon after the human resources issue, the Bustamante matter has triggered a tense standoff between Mauk and the board. Sources say Mauk is standing behind the executives and defends the handling of the situation, which so far hasn’t triggered any county liability.
Yet observers agree that the entire affair may signal the end of Mauk’s tenure. According to sources, Mauk has in recent months been consulting Supervisor Nguyen about possibly taking over as CEO of CalOptima.