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Marci Sauer, a senior human resources manager at the Orange County treasurer-tax collector’s office, has been placed on administrative leave as an internal investigation looks into whether senior officials improperly cashed out annual leave balances, Voice of OC has learned.
Central county Human Resources is directing the investigation, according to sources with knowledge of the probe. Sauer, who was placed on leave last month, did not return a call seeking comment.
The sources said that several other senior managers at the treasurer-tax collector’s office are also being questioned and indicated that other managers could be placed on administrative leave soon.
Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Freidenrich declined to confirm the disciplinary issues with her staff or comment on the investigation and referred all questions to a county public information officer.
County spokesman Howard Sutter also declined comment, saying it is a personnel matter.
John Moorlach, chairman of the Orange County Supervisors, also declined comment on the specifics of the situation but acknowledged he had been briefed. “If you do something involving the public ledger, it’s going to come out, so why do that?” he said. “And I just say that in a generic way.”
The investigation into the actions of senior human resources officials at the treasurer-tax collector’s office comes as county Human Resources Director Steve Danley is moving to reorganize and re-centralize human resources functions countywide.
Freidenrich is one of several independently elected officials who have resisted efforts to re-centralize human resources functions.
Danley, who as county performance auditor led an exhaustive and politically explosive probe into Human Resources, was promoted to be director of the department by supervisors earlier this year.
Danley’s performance audit investigation found numerous troubling instances where top executives gave themselves lucrative raises without going through proper channels.
In the wake of that report, a board subcommittee co-chaired by Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Pat Bates spent months examining the improper raises and ultimately recommended they be reversed.
The department has been criticized for nearly a decade in a series of grand jury reports and other state audits.
Two lawsuits filed in recent months also focus on Human Resources issues.
A lawsuit filed by Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis, which specifically accused Bates, alleged improper behavior regarding promotions and job placements.
Another suit filed by Kathleen Tahilramani, human resources director at county Waste & Recycling, alleges questionable human resources practices in addition to wrongdoing by Waste & Recycling Director Mike Giancola.
And all of this comes in the wake of heavy criticism directed at the department because it was the first to look into allegations that former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante was committing sex crimes against women working for him. In July, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Bustamante, who is also a Santa Ana City Councilman, with a dozen felony sex crimes.
Moorlach acknowledged that while it might be easy to see these investigations as evidence of systemic problems, he hopes they aren’t.
“We have to figure out if that’s a trend or an anomaly or a spike. I can certainly see an argument for saying it’s a trend, but I would like to think its not,” Moorlach said. “You would hope for everyone to have a high level of integrity, but some don’t, and that’s the downside of human nature.”
“Carlos Bustamante doesn’t make this county look good, and I’m outraged by that,” Moorlach said. “But you detect and you correct.”
Moorlach now says supervisors remain focused on the future.
“Were moving forward,” Moorlach said. “We’re playing with the deck that we were dealt, but I’m optimistic. We’ll get a new CEO and a new management team around that person, and we’ll move forward.”
“We’ve taken a few punches, but we’re not out,” he said.