As a public servant and fiduciary, it was paramount to bring attention to a County of Orange’s unacceptable secretive and unethical hiring practices. A California Superior Court judgment intervened to stop these illegal practices.
As an elected public school Trustee in Huntington Beach, I was a member of the school board that sued Republic Trash Services for their operations at the Rainbow Transfer Station and Public Dump in Huntington Beach, and the County of Orange for illegal public nuisance. During the 3 year school district litigation, the public learned that the Southern California Air Quality Management District (SQAQMD) had visited the Republic Trash Dump site thirty-six times over a period of years with multiple “Notice of Violation” citations issued each time for noxious public nuisance. During this same period, the County of Orange visited the transfer station and trash dump weekly and found nothing to cite.
I was puzzled how two agencies could smell the same stench and see the same filth and come to such different conclusions. I concluded there must be something wrong with the Orange County Health Care Agency’s dump inspectors’ qualifications and training. A California Public Records Act (CPRA) demand was submitted to the County of Orange for all job OC dump inspector job applications. The CPRA demand allowed all personal information to be redacted (address, phone, email, medical history, personal references, etc.). Only the employee name, education, certifications, and work history were requested.
The County of Orange claims to operate an open, transparent, and fair civil service hiring process to select the most qualified candidate for all jobs. There is no “double-secret- handshake” inside patronage hiring in the OC; all candidates will meet at least the minimum job qualifications published for the opening. It is the right and responsibility of the public to check and make sure the OC conducts fair hiring of at least minimally qualified candidates. The only way to undertake this is for the public to see employee job application information. If the job description states, “…must be a high school graduate…” the job application would need to reflect this, if not a high school graduate the County would have violated its own personnel rules and be held accountable. Additionally, a job application must be submitted by all candidates even if already a County employee to assure a level playing field for all candidates.
Orange County Counsel Leon Page denied all access to job application information under the tutelage of Supervisor Todd Spitzer. During a Board of Supervisors meeting, Spitzer gaveled me down from the dais while I stood at the podium during public comments for having the nerve to characterize County personnel practices as “Dirty Filthy Secret Hiring.” Page even opined for the public record that job applications are all confidential while Spitzer deprived me of my right to address the Board. Page threw down the gauntlet challenging me to seek redress in court. A lawsuit was filed using public governance expert attorney Chad Morgan in a real court with a real judge. Once Leon Page saw the lawsuit he capitulated and produced a giant CD full of all OC transfer stations and trash dump inspector credentials and no other information; the lawsuit proceeded nonetheless.
The County claimed exemption based on three legal theories.
1. The OC claimed job applications are confidential because they are stored in a personnel file. This is a false claim because the document itself confers its own confidentiality or lack thereof, not where it is stored. This claim would make a phone book confidential if stored in a personnel file.
2. The OC claimed job applications are confidential because “…job applicants and employees all expect confidentiality…” This is a false claim because specific information confidentiality is conferred by CA State Law, not the wishes and hopes for confidentiality by applicants and employees.
3. The OC claimed job applications are confidential because a CA State code specifically states, “…all employee records are confidential…” This is a “true-but-false”
claim. Employee records are confidential, but the subtle subterfuge here by Leon Page is blatant. A job applicant is not an employee; therefore, the application has no confidentiality other than that conferred by CA State Law (address, phone, email, medical and references are shielded). Public documents (job applications) do not magically become confidential after employment. Public documents are and always remain public.
Dirty Filthy Secret Hiring has been stopped at the County level. I am proud to
have won this hard-fought lawsuit in Superior court. The OC had to pay all attorney fees plus all court costs totaling almost $25,000. Open and transparent civil service hiring is back as Orange County Law-of-the-Land. Every citizen can check to see if the brightest and best talent are hired to fill Orange County jobs. The public now has the right to see if applicants at least met the minimum job requirements. We have a more open, fair and transparent civil service.
In the case of Oak View Schools and the Rainbow Transfer Station and Public Dump, this issue is especially important. The children are counting on us as they attend school and live mere feet from the 18 acre Rainbow facility and deserve to have the best and most qualified inspectors looking out for their best interests.
Who can the children count on if not those charged with protecting them? The County of Orange was forced to clean up its act and for that I am proud to have brought justice to children of Oak View.
John Briscoe, was elected to the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees in 2006. Currently he serves as Clerk to the Board.
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