While sex scandals have rocked Santa Ana and Orange County government in recent years, both continue to allow managers to date people they supervise and whose promotions they oversee.
Spokespeople for the city and county confirmed last week they do not have rules prohibiting sexual or romantic relationships between managers and subordinates.
But officials at both governments say they’re working on creating such policies.
County human resources officials “will be focusing on working with all departments, including elected departments, to develop a universal policy addressing topics that include the relationships between managers and subordinates,” said Jennifer Nentwig, a spokeswoman for the county.
The instruction to develop such a county policy was made last Tuesday by Supervisor Todd Spitzer, as he and the other supervisors approved their response to a grand jury report about sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates within the District Attorney’s Office.
Spitzer is running against DA Tony Rackauckas for the top prosecutor position in next June’s election.
In its June report, the grand jury found a widespread perception within the DA’s investigations bureau that promotions and favorable treatment go to employees as a result of sexual relationships they have with superiors.
DA employees told the grand jury about multiple instances of unwelcome sexual behavior and touching between management and subordinates, as well as sexual images sent via text and email.
“In interviews with management in the OCDA office there often did not seem to be recognition of the severity of the alleged behavior but rather a discounting and dismissive “boys-will-be-boys” mentality,” the grand jury wrote.
DA officials say they’ve addressed the issues in the report, but still are developing a policy against supervisor-subordinate relationships. DA officials say they are required to meet with employee union representatives about it and are doing so.
DA Tony Rackauckas’ second-in-command, Jim Tanizaki, is among DA officials who has had a relationship with one of his subordinates, according to a legal claim filed by Rackauckas’ former investigations chief, Craig Hunter. Tanizaki hasn’t publicly responded to the allegation, but the DA’s office has said Hunter’s overall legal claim contains unspecified “falsehoods and inaccuracies.”
Aside from conflicts when it comes to promotions, such relationships can create other problems beyond promotions, according to ethics experts. They are often viewed with suspicion by other employees, and can even open the door to lawsuits.
If the subordinate is promoted, others could see it as blatant favoritism. But if they’re disciplined, the employee could claim it was retaliation for an argument or break-up.
Several public agencies take a stronger stance than Santa Ana and the county.
When Anaheim learns of a manager-subordinate relationship, the city moves one of them to a separate position so there’s no longer a conflict of interest with supervision.
“In general we will always err on the side of caution and good workplace policy, where we would not want to have any question” of a conflict of interest for people who work for the city, said Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster.
The city of Los Angeles has a similar policy among employees in its personnel department.
“Here at the Personnel Department, were a manager and direct subordinate to become romantically involved, the Department, upon learning of the situation, would remove the subordinate from the Manager’s direct supervision by transferring them to another division,” said Bruce Whidden, the department’s spokesman, in an email.
“I would expect there would be some kind of counseling with the Manager and the employee, for such relationships are clearly not in the best interests of the Department, from an HR perspective.”
Los Angeles County’s policy is less clear. Officials there decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle relationships between managers and subordinates, according to Epifanio Peinado, the chief deputy director of human resources. LA County’s focus is preventing sexual harassment, he said.
Five years ago, Orange County was rocked by a scandal in which a public works executive, Carlos Bustamante, was charged with sexually assaulting several women who worked for him. Some of the relationships began as consensual, but later took a darker turn in which Bustamante forced himself upon them, the women testified in court.
He pled guilty to felony counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and misdemeanor false imprisonment, assault and attempted sexual battery. Bustmante was also a Santa Ana city councilman at the time of the alleged county assaults, and thus partially in charge of the city’s employee policies.
The county was embroiled in another sex-related controversy 20 years ago, when the Sheriff’s Department’s second-in-command was accused of sexually harassing female employees, including groping and propositioning them.
Dennis LaDucer was an assistant sheriff and close aide to then-Sheriff Brad Gates, and was considered a possible candidate to replace Gates as the county’s top cop.
But after five women came forward with harassment allegations in 1997, the county investigated their claims and fired LaDucer. And it ended up costing taxpayers over $1 million to settle the employees’ lawsuits.
The former assistant sheriff then got a job as the second-in-command of the United Nation’s police force in Bosnia, where he allegedly visited a brothel while the U.N. was supposed to be shutting down human trafficking rings that forced women to perform sex acts at brothels. He denied the claim.
Some of the county’s human resources policies were changed in the wake of the Bustamante scandal, but county supervisors did not establish a policy restricting managers from dating subordinates.
“Colleagues, I was pretty surprised in the post-Bustamante era that we actually allow for intimate relationships between subordinate and supervisor,” Spitzer said at last week’s meeting.
“When you’re a supervisor and you’re in an intimate relationship…it really can affect the workplace.”
Spitzer directed county staff to draft a countywide policy addressing consensual intimate relationships between employees. It’s unclear when county supervisors will be voting on whether to approve it.
He noted county CEO Frank Kim’s wife works for the county, but said Kim doesn’t supervise her and any potential investigations or discipline of her would instead be handled by County Counsel Leon Page, who reports directly to the Board of Supervisors. Kim met his wife earlier in his county career, when they both worked as accountants.
In Santa Ana, former City Manager David Cavazos started dating a city employee in 2014, and didn’t inform the City Council until a year later. The council allowed Cavazos to continue overseeing the employee while dating her, and awarded him a $17,000 bonus.
The employee was also a member of the general employees union’s negotiating team, which was negotiating a new labor contract with city leaders.
Two other high-ranking Santa Ana officials – in the Police Department and code enforcement – reportedly carried on romantic relationships with subordinate employees in recent years but, unlike Cavazos, faced internal investigations over it.
The city, meanwhile, continues to allow such relationships.
In an email this week, Santa Ana spokeswoman Alma Flores said the city discourages sexual or romantic relationships between managers and subordinates “as part of good management practices,” but does not prohibit it.
City officials are developing an anti-fraternizing policy for approval by the City Council, she said.
“We anticipate it will be going before the Council in October, but the exact meeting date has not been determined.”
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.