Santana: OC Supervisors Trash Auditors, Accountability

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This year Orange County supervisors have systematically gutted a stunning array of auditing and accountability functions inside the county government.

The County’s Performance Auditor has been fired. An Office of Independent Review for the Sheriff’s Department battered. The Internal Audit Department transferred.

Earlier this month, the county’s Human Resources Director abruptly retired in protest.

Politicos are tightening their grip on county government.

And taxpayers should be asking some hard questions.

Lets not forget that Orange County supervisors are the folks that pioneered municipal bankruptcy in 1994. And when they went to refinance their bankruptcy debt in 2006, they quietly triggered another funding crisis, losing hundreds of millions in property tax revenues to Sacramento.

With all this recent executive turmoil, CEO Frank Kim may now be presiding over one of the least accountable county governments in California, choc full of political appointee-types, with little to no checks or balances left and facing a real decay in the civil service.

Note that a recent county employee satisfaction survey was so dismal compared to other counties that it spurred the exit of the last CEO, Mike Giancola – a former trash department executive who got the job in large part because he always played nice helping to transfer supervisors’ board aides into good government jobs.

Last week, Orange County Human Resources Director Steve Danley abruptly announced his retirement – failing to give his bosses of more than three decades even two weeks notice.

No party. No proclamation. No group-hug photo.

Just a big middle finger…

Danley – whose exceptional work as County Performance Audit Director easily cost him the CEO job and a hefty raise — left so abruptly that county supervisors couldn’t even convene in open session before he left, something I’ve never seen a top-tier executive team member do.

He wouldn’t comment to me but according to sources, Danley’s been under intense pressure from county supervisors for requiring their political aides to actually compete for county jobs and also follow civil service selection rules when they transfer from supervisors’ offices to county jobs – as most do.

Danley also has been under fire from County Supervisor Andrew Do’s office because his investigators took aim at Do Chief of Staff Brian Probolsky last year, when Probolsky was a senior staffer at the OC Community Resources and took time off for his elected duties at the Moulton Niguel Water District without documenting it on timecards, despite County Counsel direction to do so.

Probolsky ultimately got a three-day work suspension he’s been fighting ever since, as well as directing some hardcore fire back on Danley.

He apparently won that pressure play and got the best of the HR Director, who cracked.

Danley was reportedly so dejected that he couldn’t stomach going through the bullshit parade that was rolled out earlier this year when his longtime buddy, Giancola decided to hang it up after one of the shortest terms as CEO.

His abrupt departure from Human Resources comes just as county supervisors allow State Assemblyman Tom Daly to finish driving an artful political dagger into Internal Auditor Peter Hughes – eviscerating Hughes’ office after Internal Audit delivered a scathing audit of Daly’s handling of a special fund called 12D as County Clerk Recorder.

Even though Daly’s legislation isn’t even final, county supervisors reversed a key reform of the OC bankruptcy in 1994 by returning the internal audit team back to the Auditor Controller – the same office that was soundly criticized for not sounding enough alarm bells on risky investments by former Treasurer Robert Citron.

Add a Daly win against another auditor, Hughes.

Keep in mind that Hughes’ team has been through a series of tough audits in recent years that have shown some ugly fraud, waste and abuse at the county.

Bad audits are bad for the brand.

That’s the private warning Hughes was reportedly given last year after he came out with a scathing audit of a million dollar contracts scandal inside the OC Parks Department that county supervisors to this day have never addressed in public.

That audit is still hidden by county counsel, now ironically tasked with monitoring the county fraud hotline since Hughes’ office was transferred against his wishes to County Auditor Controller Eric Woolery.

And what happened to the county executive – and former chief of staff to a county supervisor – who led the parks department during that scandal?

Meet County Operating Officer Mark Denny, formerly chief of staff for Republican Supervisor Bill Campbell.

Hughes also was the auditor that unearthed all the dirty laundry from Carlos Bustamante’s mass affairs with underlings at the OC Public Works Department. Bustamante, a Santa Ana councilman and rising GOP star at the time was considered untouchable in county circles until Hughes’ audit came to light in 2012.

Bustamante’s trial is still pending but the ensuing scandal fried then-CEO Tom Mauk in the OC as he and a few select top executives were let go by supervisors.

It’s been more than a year since that critical parks audit – which has still been kept secret despite any criminal charges against anyone involved – was finished.

No action, nor even public discussion by supervisors.

Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer told me at one point that his understanding – communicated by former CEO Giancola – was that Denny had been dealt with but there’s no way to know because it’s a personnel matter and confidential.

My information is that Spitzer was lied to.

Denny has certainly never been subjected to any kind of public oversight or private censure for what happened inside his agency.

And that’s where it stands.

This board of supervisors isn’t interested in digging deeper, especially when it comes to politically-connected aides.

Meanwhile, an entire HR department that was just centralized (at a premium cost to taxpayers) is missing a top exec.

No idea where that department goes next or who takes over.

Danley’s old job of Performance Auditor – set up to root out bad management practices – also remains vacant.

The last auditor, Philip Cheng, was fired after a series of tame audits embarrassed supervisors publicly because his audits seemed to studiously avoided any hint of controversy.

No one has stepped up yet to take that job.

Today, supervisors are reportedly trying to get Hughes to take that job so it doesn’t look like they totally abandoned an auditor who took on politically tough audits.

Hughes reportedly is pushing for a better salary, probably trying to pad his retirement as he nears the end of his career. Supervisors are expected to take up Hughes’ contract demands this upcoming Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hughes’ entire Internal Audit department has now been shifted to Auditor Controller Eric Woolery – who is reportedly out on some sort of quiet medical leave for six weeks.

So we now prepare to enter an election year with virtually no independent-minded auditing for a $6 billion county bureaucracy.

The HR Director is out after standing up to a political aide and losing.

The Internal Auditor is out after standing up an elected department head, who moved up the food chain to the state assembly and crafted legislation to kill his whole department – successfully.

The Performance Audit department remains without a leader because the last auditor (Danley) was too aggressive and his successor (Cheng) too timid.

Throw into the mix the fact that county supervisors at one point this year voted to de-fund the Office of Independent Review at the Sheriff’s Department, only changing course after being pressed publicly by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens during final budget adoption this past June. Today, supervisors are meeting to consider several short-term contracts to study alternatives to OIR.

And if that irony isn’t rich enough for you, consider that county supervisors are now convening a special study group to consider whether to implement a county ethics commission – now a reality because of the real threat of a citizen’s ballot initiative to establish one.

And guess who is studying whether more political accountability is needed?

The WD-40 of County Government: Supervisors’ executive aides.

Representing the First District is HR-Director Killer Brian Probolsky.

Next batter-up is Supervisor Shawn Nelson’s Chief of Staff Dennis Bilodeau, another aide famous for keeping crappy attendance records as an elected official at his elected water district gig.

Third up representing Supervisor Todd Spitzer is Chris Nguyen, whose political consulting firm was investigated for their role in a botched ballot forgery attempt out in Stanton during last November’s election over a public safety tax initiative.

And batting clean up is Orange County’s senior trench-fighting politico, former Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Waters, who now works for Supervisor Lisa Bartlett after being cut from Santa Ana as city manager by a new city council majority after decades in office working with one of Orange County’s most ethically-challenged elected officials, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido.

And guess what?

During the panel’s first meeting last week (of course not televised for public review), the ethics commission study group didn’t express much support for outside accountability agencies.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that county supervisors had defunded the Office of Independent Review.

  • Ed Romero

    I see things have not changed in Orange County and they never will. I remember those corrupt GOP Racist Lesbians that ran the County of Orange for years. One of them caught shoplifting 8 times and the County of Orange allowed her to return to work, only to FIRE a male Hispanic for reporting to work late, but she did nothing to her Drug Dealer that use to make Drug Deliveries right into her office, this is the same person that was caught snorting/freebasing Cocaine while on duty at our Los Pinos Detention Center. That corrupt Asst. Chief Probation had her very own Gang of Drug Dealers, almost all of them Deputy Probation Officer’s, one of them arrested 5 times for Marijuana for Sale (felonies). There was that Deputy Probation Officer that was arrested 8 times for Drunk Driving and kept his job, then there was that other Deputy Probation Officer that was arrested 5 times for Drunk Driving, all he had to do was make a Drug Delivery to that corrupt Asst. Chief Probation Officer and go right back to work. The only qualification for employment at the Probation Department was that you were a Lesbian or spent sometime on that Mattress at that Lesbian Bar in Garden Grove where the Chief Probation Officer and all her corrupt employees hung out at. I remember that corrupt Asst. Chief Probation Officer smoking so much Marijuana that all 5 floors of our Main Office Building were saturated with Marijuana fumes, the building at times full of Local Police Officers and NO ONE DOING A THING ABOUT IT. I have lots more to say but I’m sure I made my point. I was the only person called in and requested to RESIGN. They had to hire 4 employees, 2 full time and 2 part-time to process the caseload that I did all by myself, with no assistance from anyone, that was in 1990, today they had to hire 3 more employee’s, so that makes 7 employee’s doing what I did. As my Supervisor that dirty Alcoholic that would report to work so hung off that she could barely stand up “I’m sick and tired of Ed, every project I give him he EXCELS at it, I’m sick of it and can’t wait to get rid of him”. Can someone bring this to the attention of the Board of Supervisor, never mind, I already tired that way back in 1990 and go no reply from any of them, why should they, they know better then to pick a fight with Big Maggie and Butch Betty.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Sounds like you and I have much in common, only different departments. I am going to release the documents, all of them, to the public. If you have any, you should do the same.

  • David Zenger

    “Bustamante’s trial is still pending but the ensuing scandal fried then-CEO Tom Mauk in the OC as he and a few select top executives were let go by supervisors.”

    Important correction: NOBODY was ever let go by the BoS because of the Bustamante business.

    Mauk fired Jess Carbajal in the Spring of 2012 just about the same time Carl Crown was permitted by his pal Mauk to retire quietly. Mauk finally left a couple months later – more or less on his own terms. Nguyen, Bates, Campbell and Moorlach actually gave the miscreant a going away party – away from Building 10 – even though by then they all knew how Mauk and Crown had protected Bustamante.

  • Steve W.

    This rant doesn’t even rise to the level of informed opinion. These weekly tantrums are getting old.

    • Jacki Livingston

      There is absolutely no function within the County that holds anyone accountable. Your defense of the powers that be might get you brownie points with the gangofive, but make no mistake about it, it doesn’t hold water. As an employee of the county, I watched helplessly for six years as the politicos ignored every attempt by employees to report embezzlement, crime and corruption. Mauk, Nelson, Spitzer, Moorlach…it made no difference. Dozens of patients lost everything, ripped off for their last nickel, so they could not even be buried properly, all money that was used to fund the GOP war machine for Bates, Nguyen and Moorlach. I watched as over and over, rank and file employees were ordered to falsify reports to the state and to the feds, to lie on statistics, so that they county could filch more money from the feds. And the absolute PROVABLE fact in this is that when each of these shining “leaders still standing” were told about this criminal activity going on, and the retribution being heaped on whistleblowers, they did nothing…not one d#$# thing to stop it. Norberto Santana is writing the truth, and at least he has the courage of his convictions to put his full name to his words. How about you?

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        True, and while I will give Danley credit for attempting to hold the line at the end of his career, I know that he was very entitled – demanding and expecting promotions etc.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Congrats Norberto for brilliantly setting the table and preparing the taxpayers for the foul smelling, rotten tasting, and stomach hurling – corruption these politicos have cooked up…the taste of GREED…yum yum!!

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    I have to give Danley credit for standing up to powerful forces and holding his ground on staying true to the merit and selection rules. However, he unfortunately sealed his fate by trying to do the right thing and be accountable.I can only speculate that it must have been difficult for Danley to deal with his buddy Giancola’s pattern of breaking every HR rule in the book to curry favor with the BOS. What a catch 22 So, again the county is in a state of meltdown. Nobody with any institutional knowledge and the inmates are running the asylum. Tragic.

  • David Zenger

    The County doesn’t need an Ethics Commission to double check form 700s as much as it desperately needs a completely Independent Inspector General appointed by the Grand Jury.

    Perhaps Shirley Grindle would be open to adding that to the ethics referendum.

  • Bert Ashland

    Yellow Journalism

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      Do Tell……what is not factual here?

      • Bert Ashland
        • Kathleen Tahilramani

          Duh…..I know the definition of yellow journalism. Your response makes me believe you can’t defend your comment. Unless, you would like to actually describe what about the VOC information is without merit. Give it a try……if you can and knock off the wiki links – that is lame.

          • Jacki Livingston

            He cannot defend his remarks. That’s the problem with the players withing the Rotten Orange. They all have a contagious disease called TrumpBush Walker Disorder. It is running rampant, these days, and they use Wiki like a surgical mask to keep from being exposed to any antidote. They all cover for each other and think they are so terribly clever, but in truth they are all just floaters in the cesspool of what this County is.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Yes, I notice he has no response……echo, echo,
            anyone out there???

          • Jacki Livingston

            *smirk* It’s the same effect when you shout in their ears. If you wait, you can hear the ocean.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Ha – empty vessels so to speak ; )

          • Jacki Livingston

            Now, that’s not fair, really. I hear that one of them had a brilliant idea…once….but it died a lonely death. 😛

    • Steve Downing

      Bert must have a piece of the pie. What say youBert?

  • Jasenn Zaejian, Ph.D.

    This corruption of county government is understandable, as one party, the GOP, dominates the political landscape. Can we depend on help from the State Senate to intervene and end the corruption? Of course not, for our State Senator parlayed his own position of Supervisor into State Senator, with no significant Democrat in opposition, and will continue to support the ongoing secrecy and corruption, while presenting, along with the Supervisors, a public facade of concern or the consistently used and transparent political dodge of establishing a “committee” to study the issue. The Democrats are also not innocent when it comes to creating political dodges to cover the positions that would create public concern of their positions and policies.