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O.C. Audit Probes Promotion Approval

The latest inquiry into the human resources office focuses on time needed for job upgrades.

May 30, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's internal auditor has launched an investigation into allegations that bosses in the county's human resources office approved promotions for their employees more quickly than they did for workers in other agencies, the latest in a series of complaints about the agency that oversees the county's nearly 18,000 employees.

Word of the latest inquiry comes after Peter Hughes, director of the county's internal audit department, released a report that said human resources officials had drawn on the wrong county fund to pay for $3.2 million worth of training, workshops and other expenses dating back five years.

That alleged mistake and the latest auditor's inquiry have fueled discontent among the Board of Supervisors about the management of the county's Office of Human Resources.

In their strongest words yet, some supervisors said Thursday that it might be time for some changes in the department run by Assistant County Executive Officer Jan Walden.

Supervisor Bill Campbell said several department heads have complained to him about the time it takes for their employees to receive promotions and that others have not had their requests approved.

"It seems people are getting reclassifications more quickly [in human resources] and others are waiting up to two years. That's not fair treatment of our employees," Campbell said.

This year, the county grand jury has issued three critical reports about the human resources office, including one that questioned generous benefit increases to county workers that could cost the county $75 million this fiscal year.

County supervisors have also taken issue with the widespread use of administrative leave for county employees suspected of wrongdoing.

"Those are giant red flags," said Campbell. "Some of it just seems to be mismanagement. I think our CEO has got to get this thing quickly resolved. He's got to determine whether it's the people or whether it's the structure. If it's the people, we have to make changes."

Supervisor Chris Norby said, "There's obviously a lot of concerns that have to be addressed. When we meet again as a board, hopefully we can do that."

"Collectively, we've had concerns about annual leave [and] the complaints we've been getting from department managers about not being able to get employees [promoted] in a fair and equitable basis," said Supervisor Chuck Smith. "But I'm not ready to say we need a change of personnel until we get all the facts on the table."

Walden has defended some of the county benefits negotiated for workers and pointed out that they were approved by supervisors. She did not return a call placed Thursday.

The latest criticism of the Office of Human Resources came in the report released Tuesday by Hughes. The auditor said the human resources department, with the approval of the Board of Supervisors, tapped into its unemployment insurance fund -- a self-insurance pool for workers who lose their jobs -- for expenses that should have come from the human resources budget.

The county might have to take up to $3.2 million from its general fund to replenish the insurance fund, said David Sundstrom, the county's auditor-controller.

But the county's interim chief financial officer, Fred Branca, said the auditor's report was not conclusive.

"This does need to have further exploration, and we'll do that immediately," Branca said. "If there is a need to make any refund, rest assured it will be made."

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