Lawyer Says Drakodaidis Plans Return, Is ‘Ideal Candidate’ for CEO

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Orange County Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis, who made headlines recently over a claim she filed against the county full of corruption accusations against county supervisors and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, is planning to return to work on Aug. 31.

And according to a letter sent by her attorney, Joel Baruch, she’s the logical choice to replace just-departed CEO Tom Mauk, who was forced to resign last week for the way he and other high-level officials handled sex-crime allegations against Carlos Bustamante, a county Public Works executive and Santa Ana City Councilman.

“Alisa will be reporting back to work as the Deputy CEO on August 31, 2012. She expects to retain that position without being subjected to further discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on her protected class membership,” Baruch wrote in a letter sent Monday to County Counsel Nick Chrisos.

Apparently Drakodaidis had already filed a gender discrimination complaint against the county in May after the Board of Supervisors slashed her salary following a controversial audit of the county Human Resources department that found several instances of questionable raises given to her and other executives.

Regarding the corruption claim he sent earlier this month and the county released last week, Baruch said Drakodaidis was an ideal candidate to replace Mauk, given her experience at the county.

“In at least my opinion, she is the logical choice to succeed Mauk as County CEO, since she is singularly the standard-bearer for women and for corruption-free politics in Orange County,” wrote Baruch.

At least one county supervisor said Baruch can keep his advice.

“Mr. Baruch is not on the panel of people we take advice from on who should be the next CEO of Orange County,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

Baruch took direct aim at Mauk for resigning and “throwing Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis under the bus in the process,” saying that his July 12 memo disputing Drakodaidis’ allegations was questionable, given his $270,000 severance package from county supervisors.

“Mr. Mauk is hardly a hero in the Bustamante saga,” Baruch wrote.

Among other allegations, Drakodaidis’ claim accuses Supervisor Pat Bates of trying to have a sex offender law changed to help the son of a friend. Drakodaidis asserts that Bates and Supervisor Janet Nguyen worked to place their political aides in county jobs.

County officials have largely downplayed Drakodaidis’ allegations. In his official response to the claim, Mauk wrote that “there is very little substance” to her accusations and accused Drackodaidis of “attacking” members of the Board of Supervisors.

Beyond the accusations against supervisors, the claim states that the Bustamante case was a “garden-variety sexual harassment civil case” used by Rackauckas as retaliation for the ouster last year of his supporter, Public Administrator John Williams. On July 2, Rackauckas charged Bustamante with 12 felonies relating to his alleged conduct with several female employees over an eight-year period.

Despite her downplaying the Bustamante case, Drakodaidis’ claim asserts that she is being retaliated against because she has made several complaints under the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Act on behalf of women in county government.

Someone outside of county government needs to investigate the claim, Baruch wrote Monday:

Alisa has asked Orange County government to voluntarily refer her complaints about the manner in which female employees are treated and the allegations of nepotism and fraudulent activity, to an independent and neutral outside investigator.

Failing that, Alisa and I will take the bull by the horns and will ourselves seek an investigation by state and/or federal authorities. We all saw in living color what occurred when Orange County feebly attempted to “investigate” in-house the complaints made by women who claimed they were sexually harassed by Bustamante for years — i.e., County and Public Works HR resources botched the investigation, thereby causing the DA to enter the fray and file criminal charges after an outside investigator vetted the allegations.

Baruch released his letter to the media, explaining that “I am disclosing this letter to the public so as to prevent a repeat of what occurred with my last July 11, 2012 letter.”

County officials illegally originally withheld access to Baruch’s original letter until Voice of OC filed suit against the county to force compliance with the Public Records Act.

Meanwhile, officials with the county’s largest employee union said that allegations of sexual harassment have increased recently.

“We are getting more complaints,” said Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employee Association. “But there’s distrust and fear of intimidation of reporting them through county channels, so we are working on that.”

Berardino agreed that given the intertwined relationships among the district attorney, county supervisors and the entire upper management of the county, an outside probe would have more credibility.

“Our members would feel more comfortable with an outside agency conducting investigations. We believe the county conducting its own investigation would make it awkward for “the county family.”

But that’s what one county supervisor sees as the future of the Drakodaidis allegations.

While Supervisor Nelson is suspicious of Drakodaidis’ allegations given the environment in which she’s made the charges, he said county Internal Auditor Peter Hughes should review the allegations about the placement of political aides into bureaucratic positions to ensure that county supervisors have a neutral set of facts on the issues.

“Everybody from the CEO on down is going to be dealt with according to what they did and didn’t do,” Nelson said. “Everybody.”

“For Jess,” Nelson said, referring to fired Public Works Director Jess Carbajal, “that didn’t work out so well.”

Regarding Drakodaidis’ fate once she returns to work, Nelson said: “That’s to be determined. But I’m willing to look at all the facts and draw a fair and reasonable conclusion.”

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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