The Garden Grove City Council is likely to approve an audit of a controversial job created for the city’s former fire chief, after an abrupt change of heart by two council members who had opposed the review.
The City Council has been deadlocked for weeks over whether to conduct an audit of David Barlag’s work as public safety administrative officer, a position created for him in a secret closed session vote. The review would examine a period of two months in 2014 where there are questions about whether Barlag showed up for work at all.
The Orange County District Attorney’s office, which conducted a year-long investigation, released a report in February rebuking the city for approving the deal behind closed doors, and called on city officials to record closed sessions for a period of two years and conduct an audit of Barlag’s job.
Councilmen Kris Beard and Steve Jones, two of the council members who originally voted in closed session to approve Barlag’s new position, had vehemently opposed the audit when the topic arose at two council meetings in March.
Councilman Chris Phan, who is a deputy district attorney, has recused himself from all discussions of the audit, leaving deadlocked 2-2 votes between Bao Nguyen and Phat Bui, who supported the audit, and Beard and Jones, who have questioned the utility of an audit so long after the fact, and called it a waste of taxpayer funds.
But after swift public backlash, a MoveOn.org petition and Barlag’s abrupt resignation late last month, Beard and Jones are now saying they would vote for an audit.
“I think we’re in agreement that the impasse is not the way of good governance,” Beard said at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Although Jones was absent from the meeting, Beard said they were both in agreement. “I think we can come up with a compromise to better promote transparency without incurring significant expenses at the sacrifice of existing public services.”
Beard gave an extensive list of suggestions for the audit, including reviewing the work product for the entire year-and-a-half that Barlag was in the position, capping the cost at $30,000, taking the money out of the City Council’s fund, identifying potential civil remedies or criminal charges and documenting all staff time consumed by the audit.
Nguyen rejected most of those suggestions as unnecessary and suggested the council limit their audit to the weeks between the deal’s approval on Sept. 30, 2014 and Nov. 10, 2014, when Voice of OC first reported on Barlag’s new position.
Councilmembers voted 3-0, with Phan recused and Jones absent, to agendize the vote for the next City Council meeting on April 26.
City Manager Scott Stiles said he does not plan on finding a replacement for Barlag to fill the position.
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