In their latest response to the most outspoken grand jury in recent memory, Orange County supervisors this month denied bungling the investigation of Carlos Bustamante, a former county Public Works Department manager accused of a dozen felony sex crimes involving numerous females who worked for him.
Board members do agree, however, with the grand jury that they’re generally doing a good job of cleaning up afterwards.
In a 5-0 vote Sept. 17, the supervisors approved a response to the 2012-2013 grand jury’s report, “The Goal of Equal Employment Opportunity: NO VICTIMS.”
The June report was the final and least controversial of four grand jury reports that infuriated county supervisors by raising ethical and corruption issues as well as describing an “atmosphere of fear” that grand jurors said prevented female county workers from reporting sexual harassment.
At one point, supervisors were so angry they denied the grand jury an additional $20,000 to finish its year of work.
The report on anti-harassment policies was released June 27 and recounted changes to county Human Relations policies in the wake of Bustamante’s dramatic July 2, 2012, arrest as he was enroute to Santa Ana City Hall.
Bustamante, who was a top county executive since 2003, was a member of the Santa Ana City Council and a rising star in Orange County Republican politics.
He resigned his county position in the fall of 2011 and has consistently maintained he is innocent of the accusations. He’s been charged with 12 felonies and four misdemeanors, including assault with intent to commit a sexual act, false imprisonment and sexual battery.
Bustamante’s arrest led to a rash of top-level county management departures and reassignments as questions were raised about what his bosses, including county supervisors, knew and when they knew it.
Voice of OC continues to challenge the county in court, trying to require officials to disclose records of how county supervisors and top executives handled the affair.
As part of its report on sexual harassment at the county, the grand jury did its own investigation of circumstances surrounding the Bustamante case and wrote:
Although details will not be nor can they be revealed in this study, suffice it to say that each Grand Jury Panel Member was appalled at the alleged behavior and alarmed by the ineptitude of County managers who investigated complaints of sexual misconduct.
County supervisors disagreed. In their Sept. 17 response, they asserted:
In one instance, inconsistencies in how existing policy was interpreted and carried out came to light during a recent, high-profile case. Once notified, the Board took swift action to correct the deficiencies that led to this situation …
The grand jury applauded the county for beginning to correct its human resources activities by reinstating a centralized system rather than allowing each agency to have its own human resources office, a practice that led to some HR departments having problems with “compliance, harassment, discrimination and/or retaliation violations which they often did not recognize.”
In their response to the grand jury, supervisors said they will continue centralizing human resources operations.
The grand jury also surveyed the county and 33 of the county’s 34 cities — Westminster didn’t participate — to see how they handled anti-harassment training and other issues.
Cities “appear to be on the cutting edge in their awareness of he potential tragedies and/or liabilities associated with sexual harassment and discrimination,” the grand jury concluded.
One highlighted area where many cities and the county needed to improve was in training “line staff” about existing laws, according to the jurors. While the county and all cities train managers and supervisors at least every two years in compliance with state and federal laws, most cities and the county provided no training for “line staff” because it wasn’t a legal requirement.
“Since it is line staff that generally files [harassment] complaints,” the grand jury reported, “it is critical that they understand their rights and their recourse when filing complaints ….”
The county agreed and said the approximately 13,500 nonmanagement or supervisory staff will get online training beginning in a few weeks. The grand jury had concluded, however, that in-person classes are more effective than online classes.
Mauk denied his resignation was connected to Bustamante. He received $270,000 in severance pay, “full indemnification and defense in any civil or administrative proceeding” and an agreement that the county would provide him with the legal counsel of his choice in any matter, up to an hourly rate of $300.
County supervisors have tried to keep secret documents that could answer questions about what top management and possibly supervisors themselves knew about accusations against Bustamante before he was let go.
Voice of OC has court cases and appeals pending in an effort to make those records public.
A county internal report conducted after Bustamante’s arrest determined the Public Works department was a dysfunctional organization plagued by meddling from county supervisors’ offices and Mauk on contracts for influential contractors as well as on property improvements for select constituents.
That report, 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 [Public Works].”
Much of the blame for the Bustamante scandal was leveled at the county’s system of giving each agency its own human relations department rather than having a single HR department for all of county government. To save money, HR duties were decentralized after the 1994 bankruptcy.
In the months after Bustamante’s arrest, the county’s human relations system was recentralized. The county also modernized its harassment complaint system, including addressing the accusation that employees were afraid they’d be punished for trying to report Bustamante’s alleged crimes.
In May, the grand jury issued the report that described an “atmosphere of fear” that “seemed to come from the very top of County government” and prevented county employees from reporting sexual harassment, among other issues.
That report came just a day after supervisors refused a grand jury request to augment its budget by $20,000 so it could finish the work of its one-year term by June 30.
Earlier grand jury reports critical of the supervisors were titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle” and “A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County.”
The ethical standards report recommended creation of a county ethics commission, a proposal that was rejected by county supervisors.