Do Questions Centralization of County Human Resources

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One of the key reforms following the Carlos Bustamante sex abuse scandal, the shifting of county human resources authority to a central HR office, is facing scrutiny from Supervisor Andrew Do, who has called for an audit of the effort.

In July 2012, prosecutors arrested Bustamante and accused him of systematically targeting vulnerable women working for him at the county Public Works department, stalking them and then sexually assaulting them. He has pled not guilty and is set for a jury trial starting Sept. 25

In the aftermath of the allegations, a county grand jury and others determined that the county’s decentralized HR system gave department heads too much authority over investigations into potential misconduct by officials.

The decentralization had been a money-saving move in the wake of the 1994 bankruptcy.

In response to the heavy criticism, county leaders re-centralized the department, drawing praise from a grand jury.

At a county supervisors workshop last week, Do made it clear that he wants an audit, saying it’s time to “take a close look” at whether the centralization effort has succeeded. Supervisors are expected to debate the issue at an upcoming meeting.

“Right now I’m working in the dark about how effective this effort is,” said Do, adding that the premise of centralizing HR was saving money.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson pushed back, defending the centralization as prudent and disputing Do’s characterization of its premise.

“It was very obvious that four and five years ago there were people in HR, starting at the very top, that had HR [managers] in place that didn’t know…that you couldn’t assign an HR manager to investigate their own boss.  Now if you take a class in HR [that] would be pretty elementary,” Nelson said.

“The reason it happened is there was no central nerve system for checks and balances,” Nelson said.  “Some standardization is mandatory.  We got so far afield, it was a walking liability.”

Do responded to Nelson by saying that while he supports having a universal human resources policy with a central office that can audit departments, he takes issue with a central HR office running recruitments for county jobs.

Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer suggested that Do meet with directors of the county’s internal audit and performance audit offices about adding the audit to their work plans. Supervisors would then discuss whether to move forward at an upcoming meeting.

The largest union for county employees, meanwhile, says the centralization is key to ensuring policies are followed across the county.

“Under a decentralized environment, there’s kind of no control over what’s going on…we saw the consequences of that when Carlos Bustamante was able to sexually assault county employees,” said Jennifer Muir, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Bustamante’s subordinate, she noted, “was charged with investigating whether he had done anything wrong.”

Do’s actions come amid frustration he’s had recently with the county’s HR director, Steve Danley, who in January rejected his request to put his new chief of staff, Brian Probolsky, in a salary range reserved for employees with “outstanding performance.”

Probolsky was also sanctioned by Danley’s department for improperly documenting time off for his elected duties as a water district board member and for making political threats of retribution.

Last month during a regular meeting of the supervisors, Do spent several minutes publicly interrogating Danley over his position on Danley’s salary, among other issues.

“When I first took office and I put in the salary request for my staff, do you remember that you denied – rejected – my request?” Do asked on Tuesday.

Danley responded that the request was for “a salary rate that was above what the [personnel and salary resolution] allowed.”

Do probed further, telling Danley to point to the specific language in the resolution that requires supervisors to adhere to its salary rules. To “refresh” Danley’s memory, Do pointed to a section that say supervisors can pay political aides up to the “maximum rate of the applicable range.”

Danley, meanwhile, responded that the county’s practice is to set that top level as the “maximum advertised rate,” which in the case of political aides is about $54 per hour, less than the $60 an hour Do was seeking.

The intensity of the exchange was such that it prompted Supervisor Michelle Steel to remark that it was “like court.”

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • Trudy White

    Anyone who has ever dealt with the County HR crew knows they are, as a group, lacking. But it is hilarious to watch Do throw a tantrum like a two year old who wants a cookie.

  • ConstituentNonsense

    The only good news is that Do acting like a spoiled brat is making him unpopular with other board members. Unfortunately that same behavior seems to make him popular with the people who elect him, just like it did with Janet Nguyen. Neither one of them care one bit for the people they supposedly represent. It’s all about how important they think they are and how much money they can rake in for campaigns. Pathetic.
    I wonder if every one of the supes with a law degree is going to run for DA? Spitzer is for sure. What about Do? With all the hot air and smoke that will get blown at board meetings, the county will have to install extra ventilation.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Round and Round we go – where we stop …is right back where we started for another go at the unimaginative and utterly time wasting effort to appease one Supervisor with an ax to grind and absolutely no historical understanding of how HR ended up centralized. Not that Do appears to care. It sure looks like he wants the absolute power to rule absolutely – everybody better stay out of his way and do what he tells them to do. Jump on the clown car for another rodeo.

  • David Zenger

    Decentralization was the mantra of the Mauk years, a “system” that was a reaction to the rigidly monolithic organization in place when the bankruptcy occurred. The advocates of decentralization mistook incompetence for bureaucratic ossification and overreacted accordingly.

    Throughout the 2000s a new kind of problem occurred. The departments successfully advocated and jealously defended their independence, but didn’t have the ability to perform basic functions like HR, construction management, and real estate management. There is no telling how much was wasted during these years, or how much damage was done. There was a conga line of construction management failures and HR disasters. Nobody seemed to care.

    One thing is for certain. Certain supervisors like Bill Campbell and Do’s mentor, Janet Nguyen (with Mauk’s connivance) used the free-for-all to bully and manipulate department heads to get what they wanted, and the public good be damned.