An independent investigation commissioned by the city of Garden Grove found no evidence that ex-fire chief David Barlag expected to have a “no-show” job following his resignation in the wake of the city’s nepotism scandal, according to a report released last week.
Barlag resigned in September 2014, following public outrage over the 2013 hiring of former Mayor Bruce Broadwater’s son as a firefighter despite numerous misdemeanor arrests and heavy competition for the position.
Behind the scenes, Barlag had already agreed to a two-year contract for a newly created position of public safety administrative officer with a slightly higher salary, allowing him to retire with a larger pension than he would have as fire chief. But that fact didn’t become public information until Voice of OC reported it nearly two months later.
An investigation by the Orange County district attorney’s office released earlier this year found that the City Council’s approval of Barlag’s contract violated the spirit of the state’s open records’ law. Council members then ordered up another investigation into whether Barlag was doing work commensurate with his executive-level salary.
The report, by Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP, mainly reiterated many facts that had already been reported by news media and were included in the DA’s report. But it did shed new light on what occurred before Barlag’s new position was made public in November 2014.
The report noted that when describing Barlag’s duties as a public safety administrative officer to Voice of OC, then-City Manager Matthew Fertal used the future tense. It also noted that a November 18, 2014, email to council members and executive staff describing Barlag’s job duties was “the first evidence that the investigator was able to uncover in which Barlag’s specific job assignments were identified and discussed in writing.”
Barlag declined to be interviewed for the investigation and Fertal did not respond to investigators’ requests to be interviewed.
The report also relied on a half-hour covert recording between Barlag and a confidential DA informant, in which Barlag stated: “For me the thing is Matt [Fertal] and I have an understanding – and I wrote down what Matt told me and Matt told me […] ‘Well Dave, there is no expectation that you are actually going to come to work.”
Pressed to explain what that meant, Barlag said he would be allowed to telecommute to work.
Ultimately, investigators found no evidence that Barlag “had no expectation of having to perform services” under the new position and that he never objected to any assignments.
“When given an opportunity to state that he had no expectation of providing any services during the covert telephone conversation, Barlag never made such a statement,” the report reads.
“Barlag freely discussed limited work assignments and his expectation that the new City Manager may give …a different direction,” the report states. “All of these conversations are consistent with someone who had an expectation to perform services for the city.”
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