Placing OC Public Works Director Jess Carbajal on administrative leave last week is just one of several personnel moves being made as county officials scramble to gain control over a department rocked by revelations that sexual harassment allegations against former executive Carlos Bustamante were not properly handled.
An internal review is under way to examine promotions and determine whether there’s evidence of a hostile work environment. Sources say if this most recent review ends as others have, it will uncover a "lot of scummy behavior."
Officials won’t have to look far for evidence of a department in trouble.
Last week, OC Public Works executive Francisco Alonso sent a scathing letter that accompanied his abrupt retirement announcement after 33 years with the county.
“Given the environment, the working conditions and the double standards that have been allowed to exist at OC Public Works, it is best for me to do what a few others have recently done,” Alonso wrote. “It is time for me to say enough is enough and to just say Good Bye.”
Alonso describes an agency in deep trouble and experiencing a crisis of leadership in the wake of Carbajal’s removal:
“I can no longer tolerate to witness the questionable leadership, lack of emotional intelligence and the poor critical decision making that has been allowed to exist within our beloved department. The recent events of the last few months have been very hard on all of us, and given the steps taken within the last few days, I am hopeful that things will soon get better.”
The roots of the scandal go back to a series of anonymous letters sent last fall to members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and news media, which alleged that Bustamante, who is also a Santa Ana city councilman, had traded sex for promotions at OC Public Works with female workers.
CEO Tom Mauk ordered a confidential investigation, which queries about a dozen women, who were assured confidentiality. Bustamante, who still maintains his innocence, quickly resigned after being confronted with the results of the investigation.
Then earlier this month, Voice of OC revealed that another investigation by the county's internal auditor concluded that officials like Carbajal did not handle the allegations against Bustamante in an appropriate manner.
The allegations uncovered in the audit were turned over to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas while supervisors met several times behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, Carbajal was placed on paid administrative leave, effective March 19. Ignacio Ochoa, heads of the department’s engineering division, will take over as interim agency director.