Inside O.C. Public Works: It Ain't Pretty

'There's a lot of work to be done' to fix the scandalized agency, Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach says following the release of an independent review.

An independent review made public Friday of Orange County Public Works, already rocked by sex charges against former executive Carlos Bustamante, reveals a department plagued with low morale, micromanagement, "a culture of favoritism,'' poor communication and conflicts with the Board of Supervisors.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach said the
report -- prepared by former county officials Ken Smith, Herb Nakasone, Jan
Gross and Bob Wilson -- got him consulting with experts Friday on how to improve the department.

"There's a lot of work to be done,'' Moorlach told City News Service. "It's not pretty, but this county is not afraid to take a hard look at itself, and that has been the posture since I've been here. We're trying to improve things. It's not pretty, it's not fun, but it's the right thing to do.''  

The former county officials were not able to get into specifics of the
Bustamante allegations, but they were particularly tough on the department's
human resources officials.

The human resources division "lost the trust and confidence of many
(public works) employees over the past several years,'' the report reads. "Its apparent condoning and execution of hirings, promotions, investigatory and disciplinary actions that were not supported by good human resources practices were considered by a wide range of (public works) staff as furthering the personal agendas of executive leadership.'' 

Bustamante, a Santa Ana councilman, resigned last fall as a county executive when confronted by county officials with allegations of sexual harassment. He was charged this month with sexually assaulting seven county co-workers.

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson has questioned the management
position Bustamante held, saying it appeared undefined. Orange County District
Attorney Tony Rackauckas has alleged the victims feared coming forward with
accusations against Bustamante, considering it "career suicide.''

Jess Carbajal, who was Bustamante's superior in the department, was
fired this month as head of Public Works. Carbajal's attorney, Wylie Aitken,
recently said his client was being "scapegoated'' and that he followed proper
procedure when made aware of the Bustamante allegations.

Chief Executive Officer Tom Mauk's future with the county hangs in the balance as supervisors plan next week to continue discussing his job performance.

The independent review team did not seek any information about the Bustamante allegations while interviewing county employees.

"It is clear, however, that even rumors of those behaviors have damaged
the credibility of (the human resources division of public works) and department leadership due to the common believe that they have had previous
knowledge of such behavior,'' the report reads.

"Additionally, there were other instances of discriminatory and sexually charged workplaces within (public works) that were reported by staff that are unrelated to the current District Attorney investigation. These reports were instances that occurred in the last two years.''

Those reports "have reinforced (staff's) distrust of department
leadership and (human resources) and has impacted morale'' in the department,
the report reads.

The team reported "poor communication by department leadership was a
common theme'' in interviews with employees.

The team recommended that public works officials consider forming a
"compliance unit with appropriate authority that provides the director and
(public works) staff with an independent option for dealing with allegations of
unethical, illegal or otherwise improper conduct and which has the
responsibility for continuously assessing the workplace environment
(particularly in outlying offices) to ensure a non-hostile and safe workplace
for all employees.''

The team also recommended hiring a human resources manager with
"expertise and experience in human resources administration, mandates and

The department should also prioritize ``continuous sexual harassment
training for all staff.''

Employees also complained that some of their co-workers benefited from
promotions and salary increases based not on merit but on their relationships
with executives.

The employees also griped about Alisa Drakodaidis, the deputy chief executive officer of public works, micromanaging the department.

"The most predominate comment from employees at all levels highlighted
the controlling and unprofessional manner in which the deputy CEO exerted
authority,'' according to the report.

Drakodaidis recently fired off a fiery letter to county officials before taking about a two-month leave. A public records request for that letter was denied this week.

Another complaint of employees was the sometimes confrontational manner
supervisors take when questioning them about various projects.

Moorlach said he would like to work on that.

"I can see where they feel a little frustrated,'' Moorlach said. "And, I think, to be candid, one thing I'm walking away with is how do we communicate with county staff at county board meetings a little better. I'll work with my colleagues on that.''

--City New Service


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »