Probolsky Sanctioned for Timecard Abuses, Political Threats

Orange County officials have sanctioned an influential OC GOP insider, Brian Probolsky, for attending weekday meetings as an elected official with the Moulton Niguel Water District board member last year while also on the clock in his job as a business practices manager at the county’s Community Resources Department (OCCR), according to sources knowledgeable about a completed human resources investigation into the matter.

Probolsky, who had been on loan to former Supervisor Pat Bates since July from OCCR and also briefly worked for Supervisor Lisa Bartlett in December, didn’t show any time off on his county timecard for water district meetings, according to sources.

According to sources, Probolsky has in turn, spent the last six months confronting human resources investigators about their probe, fighting back while under questioning and even threatening investigators with political retribution given his posts with county supervisors.

He spent the last month on vacation during the special election that elected Republican Andrew Do to the Board of Supervisors last week and was seen at Do’s campaign events.

Probolsky was supposed to return to work at OCCR on Monday.

However, he wasn’t at OCCR Monday. He was instead answering phones for Do, who was sworn in on Tuesday.

Asked by a Voice of OC reporter on Monday about whether he was working for Do, Probolsky declined comment. Do did not return a call seeking comment.

However, county spokeswoman Jean Pasco said, “according to the county system, [Probolsky is] currently an OCCR employee.” Pasco confirmed that Probolsky was back at work as of Monday but was indeed working out of the First District office. It’s unclear whether he is on loan (similar to his situation with Bates) or not.

During vacancies in supervisors’ offices – such as in the First District – the chairman of the Board of Supervisors is in charge of supervising office staff.

After today hearing about Probolsky answering phones for Do, County Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer said he didn’t authorize staff to be working Monday in the First District office, so any county staff there would be “taking a vacation day.”

Probolsky was formally criticized in internal documents just last week for threatening the HR investigators with political retribution for their investigation while he worked as a chief of staff to Bates last fall, sources said.

He was cited for “extremely inappropriate” actions and warned privately that his threats against investigators would not be allowed to continue, sources said.

His sanction from the CEO’s office, sources said, amounted to a few days of unpaid leave in January.

County officials would not comment publicly on Probolsky’s case.

Union officials said the CEO’s office has created a unique standard, one that workers will expect to be applied to them as well.

“This lenient standard will be the benchmark going forward. Arbitrations for our members are going to become a lot easier from now on,” said Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, who has heard of the Probolsky matter.

“The CEO has created one of the lowest standards for discipline that I have seen in 40 years with this case,” Berardino said. “It will be enormous help to the unions in disciplinary matters.”

County supervisors generally reacted with surprise regarding Probolsky’s alleged attempts to undermine the investigation and said they’ve not seen the HR documents.

Spitzer said he would be seeking a briefing on the issue.

“I haven’t seen the report,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson. “Obviously any employee or elected would be way out of line if he or she threatened a county investigator just doing his or her job.”

In addition to being called out by officials for lack of professionalism and threats, Probolsky was criticized for failing to disclose his secondary employment with the water district, using his own computer instead of a work-issued one, and using bereavement leave to attend some water district meetings, sources said.

Probolsky also caught the attention of HR investigators last year when he was caught on tape along with other political aides people-watching during work hours at the Registrar’s office during the March candidate filing deadline.

He also admitted to investigators, according to sources with knowledge of the probe, that he had no business reasons for hanging out at the Registrar of Voters office last March to watch candidates file for office.

Regarding his issues with documenting time off, Probolsky argued to investigators that given his executive position, he was on the clock 24/7.

Yet over a year and a half, Probolsky could only show investigators less than two-dozen emails sent after hours.

Probolsky’s rise through the county political ranks has been noteworthy.

It comes at a time of unprecedented disclosure of supervisors’ abuses in county hiring practices – seeking to offer their political aides easy access to public sector jobs. With newly-elected officials like Auditor Controller Eric Woolery asking his own set of political aides, the jockeying has triggered fundamental questions about just what do these political aides do for their elected masters.

Probolsky entered the county government as a staff aide to Bates in 2010. Within two years, he raised eyebrows by nearly doubling his pay when he went to work for OCCR. Probolsky worked as a business practices manager working directly for agency director Steve Franks – himself once a political aide to County Supervisor Jim Silva.

Last summer, just after HR investigators started checking out his water district attendance following an anonymous tip, Bates moved Probolsky back to her office and  secured him a raise that went above the authorized level for executive aides to supervisors.

During these ensuing months, the pressure on HR investigators to end their probe of Probolsky became the most intense, sources said.

When Bates left the Board of Supervisors in early December after being elected to the State Senate, Probolsky moved over for a short stint to work for her successor, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.

Yet Bartlett did not keep him on staff, returning Probolsky back to OCCR by Dec. 31.

He was supposed to go back to OCCR but took the month off for vacation.

Do has apparently hired Probolsky back for his third stint on the Fifth Floor of the County Hall of Administration. At Tuesday’s county supervisors’ meeting, Probolsky sat next to the other chiefs of staff and held Do’s briefing booklets also conferring with him on the dais.