Orange County Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson has asked county human resources officials to outline potential discipline measures against top county officials involved in the issuance of nearly $1 million in no-bid contracts inside the county parks department.
“We are fair and we are consistent,” Nelson wrote in an Aug. 28 email to OC Human Resources Director Steve Danley following last week’s revelation by Voice of OC of a critical internal audit that focused on questionable contracts given to a friend of a former high-ranking executive in the department.
“It would be helpful to me and likely the rest of the board if you would please take the time to read the audit and make a recommendation as to whether or not any discipline is warranted per county policy and consistent with county practice,” Nelson wrote in the email obtained through the state’s public records act.
Most directly impacted could be OC Community Resources Director Steve Franks, sources indicate. The County’s Chief Operating Officer, Mark Denny, who also authorized two of the questionable consulting contracts in his role as former director of OC Parks, is also drawing questions from county supervisors about his role in approving the contracts.
In his email, Nelson referenced concerns already being raised about the internal audit from the Orange County Employees Association.
“I am in receipt of an internal audit regarding OC Parks and a letter from OCEA dated August 27, 2014 demanding to know the outcome of any and all disciplinary actions taken,” Nelson wrote. “The OCEA letter cites of the Personnel and Salary Resolution specifically underlining the words “of all employees” suggesting they expect the county to administer discipline differently to these employees than to others who either have been or will be similarly situated.”
Nelson asked that after reviewing the matter, Danley memorialize that “if, in your opinion as the head of HR any discipline is warranted for any individual involved it would be equally helpful if you would outline as to each, what discipline is appropriate as well as any background as to why.”
In an interview this week, Nelson said “we’ll evaluate it once we get the response.”
However, Nelson’s already asking hard questions about why top officials still opted for questionable internal investigations given the county’s experience – and touted reforms – following the 2012 arrest of Carlos Bustamante – a former OC Public Works executive also cleared by questionable, conflict-ridden internal probes.
“If every department head and human resources person doesn’t know by now that you don’t appoint subordinates in any way shape or form to investigate superiors, you have to have to your head in the sand at this point,” Nelson said.
OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino took direct aim at supervisors arguing that the internal audit results raise questions about recent so-called reforms.
“After the Bustamante tragedy, the Board of Supervisors promised that all levels of county government would be held accountable and internal investigations would no longer take place,” Berardindo said.
“We anxiously await the board’s actions and we’ll use their response as the standard against which our members’ discipline will be measured.”
Nelson took issue with Berardino’s characterization, saying county culture has changed under his leadership as chairman.
“Three years ago, the internal report would be the end, not the beginning,” Nelson said.
County Supervisor John Moorlach is also asking hard questions about how all the parks contracts got approved. He’s mainly focused on what kinds of deliverables the county got for so much money. But so far, he’s scratching his head.
“I’m not amused by what we found,” Moorlach said.
While two top executives involved in the matter declined to be interviewed by auditors, Moorlach said district attorney officials had reviewed the matter and found no criminal wrongdoing.
“I’ve been told the DA has reviewed the matter and there is nothing of a criminal matter here,” Moorlach said.
However, Moorlach is openly wondering whether one quick fix supervisors may want to consider is getting a better sense of what kinds of no-bid contracts are being approved at the department level.
Moorlach notes that other agencies, such as the Orange County Transportation Agency and the county counsel’s office, offer board members such summaries.
“I don’t know if this is prevalent throughout all the departments,” Moorlach said.