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 ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • John Claxton

    The DA would participate so the DA was allowed to hire his own auditor?

  • Trudy White

    The Feds know all of the dirty dealings of the County, but they look the other way, because the money isn’t a lot, at least to them. This poor guy didn’t have a chance, because if he actually did the job, he would step on the toes of one of the multiple idiots who got to their exalted and overpaid position thanks to their cousin or aunt, not education or real integrity. If you took the top ten management personnel in the five biggest agencies, you would find a lack of education and intelligence which would render them unfit for the private sector. They protect their little monarchies by surrounding themselves with more of the same. They beat down anyone with true education and intelligence, and crucify anyone who dares to question them. Problem is, when you give power to those who lack the capacity to use it, corruption results. Bustamante was a good example. If the voters knew how much waste and thievery went on every day? They would freak out. The BoS does not want to know. This is why they have the layers of devoted and overpaid minions. Recently, Spitzer avoided having to know about several criminal and abuse cases, thanks to his team. So long as they can plead ignorance, they never have to do a thing. And don’t believe that the DA and Todd hate each other. They cover for each other like all the others.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    The office of the Performance Auditor needs to be eliminated as it is nothing more that a political football subject to the whims and agenda of each board member. What is “found” and “not found” is determined under the lens of self-serving political interest. The BOS will direct the activities of the PA and the next person will have a similar career ending event unless they decide to become a pliable puppet of the board.

  • David Zenger

    The sad part about this is that the Supervisor’s have never taken the Performance Auditor seriously. How many of the numerous recommendations made by the PA during Danley’s tenure were basically ignored by Mauk and the Board? Most of them, I think, except for the HR stuff where Mauk and Bates’s favorite execs were getting inappropriate pay raises.

    Yet the very existence of this department gives an air of legitimacy to the goings on. Changing the boss every couple of years just means more emasculation.

    If the Board was really serious they would hire a tough auditor and start him off with the activities of the 5th Floor Board employees to see how much of that $5,000,000 General Fund budget actually goes to serving the public.