Dana Point Harbor Chief Quits Following Critical Audit

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Citing a “mistake” he made in managing the department, Dana Point Harbor Director Brad Gross retired Thursday following an audit that determined the county-owned Dana Point Marina Inn handed out steep discounts to high-level harbor and Dana Point city workers for hundreds of room nights.

In his May 6 retirement letter Gross mentioned the audit, which was released this week by Auditor Controller Eric Woolery, and said: “Had I thought to question these policies, and not trust that the policies existence and acceptance over several years prior to my arrival was a sign of validation, I might have been able to resolve the issue sooner.”

The audit wasn’t made public until May 11, the day before Gross’ retirement took effect.

Gross was director of the Dana Point Harbor Department for nine years. County supervisors separated the Harbor Department from the county’s parks department more than a decade ago.

The special hotel discounts were part of a little-known and poorly documented program that had no approval or oversight from the Board of Supervisors, according to the audit.

Woolery’s audit showed the hotel gave employee discounts for 988 nights between 2009 and 2015. Some officials who took advantage of the program had direct oversight responsibilities for the hotel’s contract.

In 2013, one Dana Point official, who was a county employee on contract with the city, used the discount for 147 nights in a row, the audit found. The audit did not name the official.

The hotel is operated by the Great Western Hotels Corporation through a contract with the county.

In his retirement letter to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, whose district includes Dana Point Harbor, Gross went on to say: “With the recent Internal Audit review of certain Harbor policies put in place prior to the existence of the Department, and the determination that some of these policies warranted further analysis which I did not know to request, has made me realize my mistake in management of these policies and will be a lesson I will adhere to in my future endeavors.”

He added: “I hope the County managers can also learn from this and understand that while we make the best decisions based on the information we have, it is equally important to know the information provided is coming from a qualified source.”

County Spokeswoman Jean Pasco said county CEO Frank Kim plans to ask the Board of Supervisors to return Dana Point Harbor to the Parks Department, rather than allow it to continue as a separate department.

County COO Mark Denny will take on the added position of acting Harbor director until supervisors return it to the Parks Department, Pasco said.

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.

  • M.e. Fuelleman

    interesting the the harbour is returning to mark denny’s care…he was the HBP director when the harbor was spun off.

    • Robert Jordan

      Interesting that you’re wrong again MaryEllen, if that’s really you or someone who wants to disparage the real MaryEllen Fuelleman. The HBP Director at the time of the harbor spinoff was Kevin Thomas, who was subsequently fired eight months later. Coincidence?

      • David Zenger

        I think it’s the real one. I sort of felt bad for her having to sit through those HR Ad Hoc Committee sessions. But not too bad.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Gross is saying there wasn’t a problem with this scam. And he’s right- there wasn’t a problem. It was time to end the scam when it’s was Included in the audit’s scope. They knew it was on the docket. AC Woolery wants some “wins” and this scam was offered up.

    The Board of Supervisors hired Gross, praised him and rewarded nicely with bonuses. He ran his department with EAs from the BOS. Oh the insiders enjoyed this little perk at the expense of the taxpayers. Next.

    This is one of those “stinky” budget items that had to come out. Then Building 10 gets to work to strategize the timing of the unveil, make sure no one is accountable and Gross hit his 10 year (vested pension) goal. This is small potatoes but it gives the CEO a chance to reorganize the department and appear “executive”.

    Then they decide which BOS will play “bad cop” and they script Spitzer’s “outrage” remark.

    All OC scams have an end date of when it’s “time to go”. This is all part of the plan. Trust me – know one will be hurt by this. There are way much bigger scams going on…so they throw out this mini appetizer to fool the public.

    Did it work?

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      You have once again totally nailed it. Great summary! And yes, it worked. Works everytime like a charm. Nice formula like that recepie that works without a flaw.

  • David Zenger

    Gross was really unqualified to run anything. He was (or pretended to be) perfectly satisfied with the PDI contract’s fixed fee which meant that the contractor got paid whether they accomplished anything or not. This meant PDI got paid around $50,000 each and every month as the revitalization project languished from 2007-2013.

    His completely lame rationalization? “They’re always there when we call them.”

    Still, the disasters and embarrassments at DPH must be left primarily at the doorstep of the 5th District’s Supervisors Wilson then Bates; the former pushed through the creation of a separate department, virtually accountable to no one else, and embedded his own staff there. Bates not only refused to see the problem with the Harbor she angrily defender her turf against any kind of scrutiny. She finally had the Internal Auditor, Peter Hughes, conduct a whitewash of the PDI mess in 2013.

    In the HR Audit ad hoc committee, Bates also argued to let Gross keep the inappropriate raises he had received that had been identified in the 2011 HR Performance Audit, ironically citing his yeoman efforts to get the waterside part of the project through the CCC. What nobody knew then, was that Gross had entrusted the matter completely to his consultant and that remarkably expensive delays ensued even as PDI kept getting paid each month.

    Still, the other Supervisors with their $1,000,000 office budgets have plenty of resources to find out what’s going on if they so choose. Each has a staff member whose responsibility is to know what’s going on in Dana Point Harbor. So what happened?

    • M.e. Fuelleman

      the HR ad hoc committee report was and remains an embarassing political scam. you can’t blame brad gross for the danley/nelson make-stuff-up-as-you-go “report”. his pay was commensurate with that of others in the state with similar responsibilities. no point in trying to travel in the way-back machine.

      • David Zenger

        Brad Gross had a staff of barely a dozen people. Everything else was contracted out to people Gross exercised ZERO control over. He was grossly overpaid for what he did and got improper raises per County policy. Danley didn’t make that up. It’s documented.

        At the County the “way-back machine” can’t even go to yesterday.

        • M.e. Fuelleman

          no, it’s not documented. it was fabricated. i’m not a brad gross apologist but policy for pay rises was, actually, followed. danley fabricated “policies” on the fly…to whatever end he and sup nelson aspired. i’ll be happy to admit my error if you can point to the actual policy that was violated, not just danley’s opinion. true audits have objective standards. he cited only one violation of HR policy out of the 60+ items he cited. the rest was pulled out of his fertile, vindictive imagination.

          • David Zenger

            If the policy was followed then how come Mauk, who handed out the raises to Drakodaidas, Gross, Richardson, etc., never said so? It would have been so easy to discredit Danley, whom he despised. But he didn’t, did he? And all Bates had to do was agree. Instead she made up an angle to protect Gross.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Translation: I was there when it happened, but did not notice, know what to do, question anything, analyze anything, know what was going on right under my nose, pay attention, be involved – so….it’s a teachable moment and I’ll know better next time & it’s really not my fault could have happened to anyone.I’ll retire/move on/quit so we can move on/forget about it. Reaction: Baloney more of the lather,rinse repeat..
    Putting Denny in charge: Mr.Fox welcome to the henhouse. More Baloney.
    Next step:Reoganization……wow how unique. More and More Baloney.

    And get a load of this quote:
    He added: “I hope the County managers can also learn from this and understand that while we make the best decisions based on the information we have, it is equally important to know the information provided is coming from a qualified source.”

    Talk about meaningless nonsense …….Mega Baloney. Makes no sense at all. Excuses and more failure and refusal to be accountable. This is a quote from an EXECUTIVE making a weak attempt to school managers – whew! how insulting!. I believe that most County of Orange manager are ethical and would never make the errors in judgement that Mr. Gross has clearly made over and over. It takes gall to offer such comments up as sage wisdom. You just can’t make this baloney up……