Orange County officials have cleared county Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly of any wrongdoing after an independent investigation concluded that anonymous allegations of sexual harassment and systematic favoritism by Daly toward certain women in his office were unfounded.
“There is no evidence to substantiate any of the allegations and the evidence, establishes, to the contrary, that Mr. Daly has not engaged in sexual misconduct or favoritism toward these employees," read an Oct. 18 memo sent by county Human Resources Director Steve Danley to Daly and released by Daly to news media.
Danley said he had been instructed by county attorneys to decline to comment on the matter.
Daly, who is expected to easily win the open 69th Assembly District seat in next week's election, did not respond to a call for comment. But in a statement he took issue with the process used by the county to ferret out complaints, which was widely criticized as ineffective in the wake of the sex crimes scandal involving former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante.
In July District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Bustamante with a dozen felony sex crimes against seven women he supervised at the county. High-level county officials were excoriated for not acting quickly when the initial anonymous allegations against Bustamante first surfaced, and several, including County CEO Tom Mauk, lost their jobs in the month following Bustamante's arrest.
In his case, however, Daly said county officials may have overreacted to anonymous allegations.
“The county government’s system for anonymous complaints is too easily used as tool for smear tactics. It’s also flawed because it does not protect the legitimate privacy of innocent, hard-working employees, while it protects the anonymous accusers. This is out of balance and should be fixed,” stated Daly in a news release.
County officials began a legal investigation after an anonymous group, calling itself "concerned county employees," sent a detailed complaint letter to Voice of OC and a variety of county offices, including that of interim county CEO Bob Franz, in August.
The letter alleged that Daly had handed out promotions and engaged in inappropriate behavior with at least four female workers at the clerk-recorders’ office.
With the Bustamante case fresh in their minds, officials, citing the specific nature of the allegations, immediately hired an outside law firm to investigate.
At the time, Danley said a rising tide of allegations against executives and some department heads had prompted county officials to convene a compliance oversight group — Danley, County Counsel Nick Chrisos and Internal Auditor Peter Hughes — to consider and refer investigations when complaints merited further review.
That point was met by the Daly allegations, Danley said in August. “The threshold is we have to investigate to some degree everything that comes before us, whether it’s anonymous or not,” Danley said.
However, county officials have yet to find a way to effectively discuss investigations when they clear officials, Danley said.
“Because it’s an HR [Human Resources] issue, I’m not allowed to comment,” Danley said. “We have a mechanism for informing the person who is accused and the person making the accusations of the outcome."
Danley could not say how many people were interviewed and how much money had been spent on the law firm’s investigation, which like the Bustamante case is being kept confidential.
There are already concerns about how county officials move to clear executives, department heads or elected leaders accused of improprieties when allegations are found to be without merit.
“That’s been a topic of discussion already in the committee,” said Danley, noting that officials will address that topic again when they meet this week to discuss procedures.