Monday, June 6, 2010 | Orange County Performance Auditor Steve Danley is accusing CEO Tom Mauk of misleading supervisors as the county’s bureaucracy moves to defend a series of quiet raises given to top administrators.

Late last month, Danley’s office released a highly critical audit of the county’s Human Resources Department. The audit found that in recent years the county granted 75 management salary hikes without proper justification.

The most egregious instances highlighted by auditors involved some of the county’s highest-ranking executives. Assistant CEO Rob Richardson, for example, saw his salary increase by 47 percent between January 2006 and April 2008, a period during which hundreds of rank-and-file employees lost their jobs.

Mauk was forced to release the names after a Voice of OC request under the state Public Records Act. Mauk included detailed explanations of the reasons for the raises. In many cases, Mauk’s answers directly disputed the findings by Danley’s office.

Now Danley has publicly taken issue with Mauk’s explanations.

“At least 27 of the CEO’s responses contain inaccuracies,” Danley wrote in a June 1 rebuttal of Mauk’s response. The letter was addressed to Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Campbell (see attached). When asked by Voice of OC to elaborate, Danley declined.

Labor leaders, meanwhile, are incensed over the disclosures and have called for a neutral, third-party review of the raises, aiming to force the county to rescind any unjustified raises.

There’s even talk of a demonstration at the supervisors’ Tuesday meeting.

Yet Campbell is already saying he won’t support any kind of third-party review. He’s also downplaying the dispute between Mauk and Danley, calling it “a difference of opinion” over management style.

Campbell said a public presentation Tuesday at the supervisors meeting would suffice. A contractor would likely take months to simply explain to the county how forms weren’t filled out correctly, he said. “Let’s not get into one of those things. Let’s concentrate on what needs improvement.”

Campbell said he saw no problem in the executive raises. “If somebody is doing more work and has broader responsibilities, it’s appropriate to compensate them for that,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s position does not sit well with Nick Berardino, who heads the Orange County Employees Association.

“Not allowing a third party to review this information that the county’s own auditors discovered demonstrates they want it buried forever,” Berardino said.

“It speaks to their circle-the-wagon mentality: Protect the CEO, because if he goes down, they’ll all be embarassed.”

Mauk said he wouldn’t get into the specifics of answering Berardino or Danley unless county supervisors requested more information. “Responding to specifics [through the press] is just a waste of time,” Mauk said.

“For me, I’m going to address the procedures and policy issues now, and I’m not dealing any further with individual findings, unless the board wants me to. I’d be happy to address every single one of them.”

Mauk acknowledged that there is some institutional tension between his office and Danley’s. That accounts for differences in each office’s interpretations of the county’s labor contracts and regulations.

“I think there’s a natural tension. It’s not all bad,” Mauk said.

“This is a county that’s willing to look at itself through a performance audit function as well as through an internal audit team and an elected auditor-controller. We’re willing to find problems and fix them. And that’s a good thing.”

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