Departure of County’s Performance Auditor Could Be Imminent

The temperature under the seat of Orange County Performance Audit Director Philip Cheng has been turned up, as his job performance is again on the Board of Supervisors' agenda – this time with the word "dismissal" included.

In particular, supervisors are slated to discuss the "discipline, dismissal, [or] release" of Cheng, along with the appointment of an interim replacement, according to a supplemental meeting agenda. This comes after closed-door performance evaluations of Cheng by supervisors on March 10 and April 14.

As performance auditor, Cheng is tasked with reviewing operations at the $5.4 billion county government and making recommendations to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

He has faced criticism in recent months for producing audits that some say are too few and far between and not aggressive enough. Specifically, critics cite delays in a planned audit of the office of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas – a political foe of county supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer – and an audit of the county housing authority that seemed to miss key issues.

Cheng and all five county supervisors didn’t return messages Monday seeking comment. County spokeswoman Ruth Wardwell declined to say who requested Tuesday’s agenda items, citing personnel matters.

The audit of the district attorney's office was scheduled to start in August, but after DA officials wouldn’t cooperate with the probe, Cheng let Rackauckas hire his own auditor to conduct the review.

The auditor hired by the DA, Altmayer Consulting, told Cheng in December that the audit would be finished by February.

But, according to Cheng, that didn’t end up being the case, with the consultant saying in early February that neither the audit’s scope of work nor the first round of interviews had been finished.

Regarding the Housing Authority, Cheng's review gave the agency high marks, calling it “a well-run organization.” But he failed to mention that a year-long DA investigation of the agency revealed widespread misconduct at the housing authority.

When the audit came before supervisors in September, most declined to formally receive Cheng’s largely upbeat findings until a personnel investigation was finished.

Cheng’s characterizations “would seem to be a good housekeeping seal of approval…but we have an ongoing investigation that could reveal other issues,” Spitzer said at the time.

But Cheng stood by his characterization of the Housing Authority, saying the complaints that led to a personnel investigation were more than two years old.

“It was clear right from the beginning that was not our focus, and we intentionally [were] not trying to duplicate what the outside attorney was doing” in investigating personnel issues, Cheng told supervisors.

The personnel investigation ended up leading to the firing of five employees late last month, sources have told Voice of OC.

Employees were caught doing personal business on the job, such as sleeping at home, exercising, and taking their children to school while on the clock, sometimes working as little as two hours in a nine-hour shift.

Cheng was appointed to his position just over two years ago, in March 2013.  His office had three other employees as of 2013, according to county salary data.

You can contact Nick Gerda at, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.