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O.C. places 2 on leave in probe of treasurer memo

Officials are questioning whether bid rankings were backdated.

September 15, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Orange County has placed two employees on administrative leave pending an investigation into a controversial memo advancing Treasurer Chriss Street's plans to renovate the outside of his building.

The memo, dated June 22, purported to document an evaluation of three competitive bids for an $18,000 contract for new designs for the exterior of the treasurer's building.

But the document has inconsistencies that have led officials to question whether it was backdated to justify Street's selection of an Irvine architectural firm without using a competitive bidding process. It has become a central focus of multiple inquiries into whether anything untoward occurred; Supervisor John Moorlach has raised questions about the veracity of the document.

The document said the bid evaluation was held April 12, but the winning firm's bid was not received by the county until a week later, on April 19. The document also assigned lower bid scores to two competing firms, but the county has been unable to produce documentation showing that the other two firms submitted proposals.

Street has come under withering scrutiny during his nine months in office over questions about personal business dealings before his election, over criticism for the elaborate office renovation, and over contracts he has sought to award and decisions he has made as treasurer.

He has rejected the criticism, saying his problems were matters of style rather than substance.

Local prosecutors are investigating the design contract and his ruling on a tax case involving a Korean church, and federal prosecutors and labor authorities are examining his role in managing the affairs of a bankrupt trailer company in which he was accused of self-dealing. He has denied wrongdoing.

Keith Rodenheis, a spokesman for Street, said Friday that the treasurer "looks forward to all the facts being known."

The document in the building-design case was prepared by Clark Shen, a manager in the county's Resources & Development Management Department, and it said three other county staff members had participated in the evaluation process. All four initialed the memo next to their names, and it was forwarded to Street, who signed it.

Shen and one of the other employees, Antonio Pascual, a project manager, were placed on leave this week, according to a letter from the head of the Orange County Employees Assn. to the Board of Supervisors on Friday.

The letter said the employees were being treated unfairly while Street remained in his position with full authority. Moorlach sought to strip Street of his investment authority through a board vote earlier this week, but the effort failed.

Reached at their homes on Friday, Shen and Pascual declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

"Any working man or woman in Orange County, professional or otherwise, can relate to the unfairness of, when something goes wrong, it's always the little guy they treat unfairly in the investigation," said Nick Berardino, the general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., who wrote the letter.

"Street is also under investigation, but he's able to keep all his duties," he said. "The little guy gets put on administrative leave."

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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