Dana Point Harbor Chief Quits Following Critical Audit

Citing a “mistake” he made in managing the department, Dana Point Harbor Director Brad Gross retired Thursday following an audit that determined the county-owned Dana Point Marina Inn handed out steep discounts to high-level harbor and Dana Point city workers for hundreds of room nights.

In his May 6 retirement letter Gross mentioned the audit, which was released this week by Auditor Controller Eric Woolery, and said: “Had I thought to question these policies, and not trust that the policies existence and acceptance over several years prior to my arrival was a sign of validation, I might have been able to resolve the issue sooner.”

The audit wasn’t made public until May 11, the day before Gross’ retirement took effect.

Gross was director of the Dana Point Harbor Department for nine years. County supervisors separated the Harbor Department from the county’s parks department more than a decade ago.

The special hotel discounts were part of a little-known and poorly documented program that had no approval or oversight from the Board of Supervisors, according to the audit.

Woolery’s audit showed the hotel gave employee discounts for 988 nights between 2009 and 2015. Some officials who took advantage of the program had direct oversight responsibilities for the hotel’s contract.

In 2013, one Dana Point official, who was a county employee on contract with the city, used the discount for 147 nights in a row, the audit found. The audit did not name the official.

The hotel is operated by the Great Western Hotels Corporation through a contract with the county.

In his retirement letter to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, whose district includes Dana Point Harbor, Gross went on to say: “With the recent Internal Audit review of certain Harbor policies put in place prior to the existence of the Department, and the determination that some of these policies warranted further analysis which I did not know to request, has made me realize my mistake in management of these policies and will be a lesson I will adhere to in my future endeavors.”

He added: “I hope the County managers can also learn from this and understand that while we make the best decisions based on the information we have, it is equally important to know the information provided is coming from a qualified source.”

County Spokeswoman Jean Pasco said county CEO Frank Kim plans to ask the Board of Supervisors to return Dana Point Harbor to the Parks Department, rather than allow it to continue as a separate department.

County COO Mark Denny will take on the added position of acting Harbor director until supervisors return it to the Parks Department, Pasco said.

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.