Voice of OC has filed an open-records lawsuit against Orange County, seeking access to a letter sent by Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis that alleges a host of improper dealings among supervisors and other county officials.
According to sources who have seen the letter, Drakodaidis accuses members of the Board of Supervisors of outright corruption involving contracts, hiring and promotions within county Public Works and possibly elsewhere in the county bureaucracy.
Drakodaidis sent the letter earlier this month after Public Works Director Jess Carbajal was fired in the wake of charges by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas that Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante committed more than a dozen sex crimes against female county employees over an eight-year period while he was a manager in the department.
Drakodaidis’ letter also comes as report of a recent internal investigation by Public Works, which was obtained by Voice of OC, found that “past OC Public Works executive leadership has created cultures of favoritism, poor communication, organizational manipulation, and discrimination that have spawned low morale, distrust, and fear within OCPW.”
County supervisors and other officials have acknowledged the existence of Drakodaidis’ letter but have refused to release it on grounds that it includes private medical information and would violate her privacy.
Voice of OC and the open-government advocacy group Californians Aware, which has joined Voice of OC in the lawsuit, assert that the letter represents a claim by Drakodaidis against the county and therefore must be released under the California Public Records Act.
“I understand that county supervisors are worried about releasing a letter that makes what they consider to be baseless allegations against supervisors and staffers,” said Norberto Santana Jr., Voice of OC editor-in-chief. “However, embarrassment is not an exemption under the law in California regarding public records.”
Terry Francke, CalAware’s general counsel and Voice of OC’s open-records consultant, said the county’s legal arguments are without merit.
“The county’s No. 2 executive uses her lawyer to say she’s sick of the improper behavior she’s seeing among the people she works with,” Francke said. “[And] the county has the gall to call that a private medical issue.”
Kelly Aviles, the attorney who will be litigating the case on behalf of the nonprofit organizations, said the continued withholding of the letter is “just another attempt to cover-up allegations of misconduct” among county officials.
“Orange County seems to be in dire need of greater transparency, and we are committed to bring it by whatever means necessary,” Aviles said.
As of July 20, at least one member of the Board of Supervisors agreed that the letter should be made public. In an email to his colleagues, Supervisor Shawn Nelson asserted that the county “has no real legal basis” to keep the letter secret.
“Further efforts to keep the letter from the public make us look as though we are hiding something when there is no reason to do so,” Nelson wrote. “Please either release the document or place the item on [Tuesday’s agenda] for discussion.”
— DAVID WASHBURN
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