Friday, May 27, 2010 | Many of the county’s highest-level executives were the focus of a scathing performance audit that highlighted 75 instances where executives were quietly given pay raises, just as rank-and-file workers and services were being cut.

This week, after Voice of OC issued a public records request, county officials not only released the names of all executives and managers who got questionable raises but addressed the circumstances behind each pay hike. The raises were granted through a bureaucratic maneuver known as salary reclassifications.

The questionable reclassifications came to light as part of a comprehensive audit of the Orange County Human Resources Department by the county’s performance auditor. (The entire report is attached to this article.)

The report concluded that overall the HR department did not bargain effectively with labor groups on behalf of taxpayers, identifying nearly $150 million in potential givebacks. The report also found that management employees throughout county government had received pay and benefit packages that were not justified.

The report detailed that the most lavish raises and benefit hikes were given to those at the very top of the county government chain of command.

Among the most egregious examples of reclassifications cited in the report were:

  • Assistant CEO Rob Richardson was promoted from assistant to the CEO in January 2006 and given a 27.4 percent raise. That same day, he got a 2 percent countywide merit increase. Six months later, auditors noted he got a 4.5 percent salary hike “with no justification provided.” Then in April 2008, Richardson got another 8.3 percent salary adjustment.
  • Satish Ajmani, deputy CEO for information technology, received a 7.5 percent salary increase every year for five years until he retired under fire last year. While county staff said Ajmani’s job duties expanded to include purchasing, auditors said the job expansion was much smaller in scope.
  • Alisa Drakodaidis, deputy CEO for infrastructure, was promoted in May 2007 from a senior executive position at the Social Services Agency. She received a 17.9 percent raise when she was promoted and then another 13.1 percent raise five months later. During a subsequent annual review, she was given an additional 40 hours of annual leave credits.

Other county executives mentioned in the report as receiving questionable reclassifications were: Colleen Clark, director of public finance; Frank Kim, budget director; and Steve Dunivent, deputy CEO for community services.

County CEO Thomas Mauk explained and defended the reclassifications, saying he was “confident in all of these actions.”

Mauk did not, however, take issue with the performance audit report. He said management would work to implement many of the report’s suggestions for tightening up the process behind executive reclassifications.

Meanwhile, Performance Auditor Steve Danley called some of Mauk’s explanations “perplexing.”

“Each individual circumstance has an individual story,” Mauk said. “Let’s slow down and take each case individually and work our way through it.”

For example, Mauk pointed to 17 reclassifications that had documentation that wasn’t entered into the county’s computer system.

Danley said Mauk’s explanations are raising more questions. He said many of the justifications now presented by the CEO were never presented to his audit team during their inquiry, which lasted six months.

Danley added that his team has already found discrepancies in information the CEO’s office released to the press this week and internal documents unearthed during the six-month audit of the Human Resources Department.

“We’re doing a full review of it right now” Danley said. “Depending on what I come up with, I may have to give a full rebuttal.”

Among the issues that Danley is likely to reexamine is the annual leave given Drakodaidis. Performance auditors questioned whether the leave she received could be an illegal gift of public funds, because “there is no provision in the personnel and salary resolution authorizing an annual leave credit to a current employee.”

In the CEO’s response, county staff said the granting of 40 hours of leave was legal because Drakodaidis was “a new employee to the CEO and [had] critical position responsibilities.”

When asked about the discrepancy, performance auditors said county regulations allow officials to grant unearned annual leave only to new hires as part of a new compensation package. Unearned leave is not permitted for existing employees. Auditors added that human resources staff confirmed that regulation to them before the CEO’s office released the names and justifications.

The CEO’s explanation for a series of raises given to Kim, the budget director, in 2010 was also questioned by auditors.

The CEO’s response states that the position was reclassified from administrative manager III to executive manager “at the request of [the chief financial officer] due to expanded job responsibilities.”

Yet the existing backup documentation for Kim’s reclassification doesn’t mention expanded job duties, auditors confirmed.

As for Richardson, county staff said he was given the raises because he had been working in the role of assistant CEO for two years before the pay hike. Auditors noted that none of those justifications were noted in documents.

Beyond the top administrators, many upper management officials also got raises with little or no backup documentation.

For example, former Registrar of Voters Steve Rodermund was transferred to the CEO’s office in 2005 amidst a controversy surrounding scheduling of an election during a Jewish holiday. Rodermund was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but an internal probe found other management problems at the registrar’s office.

Yet Rodermund was reclassified from administrative manager II to administrative manager III in 2007. Performance auditors concluded there was “no justification provided” for the decision.

County officials responded that the move was “part of a countywide cleanup of temporarily filled classifications [and] positions.”

Auditors also questioned why a series of human resources middle managers had a hand in preparing the backup documentation for their own raises from 2006 to 2008.

During their review, auditors encountered curious twists, such as Carlos Bustamante, director of administration for public works, being promoted to executive manager classification. He manages facilities operations, even though he is a Santa Ana city councilman. Santa Ana pays half the Civic Center maintenance costs, the county the other half.

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