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O.C. Public Works director retires following audit

A July report found the planning department in 'critical condition,' and a task force was created to monitor improvement efforts. Bryan Speegle, public works chief since 2004, has stepped down.

August 12, 2009|Tami Abdollah

The director of Orange County Public Works announced his retirement this week after a scathing review of his planning department resulted in an official call for its overhaul.

Bryan Speegle had worked for the county for more than 26 years. He became director of the public works department in January 2004 after serving as planning and development director. On Monday, he gave notice that he would retire.

"He did not state his reason for his decision," said county spokesman Howard Sutter. Speegle was not available for comment.

A 117-page county audit released in July said the planning department was in "critical condition" -- employees had not been performing required safety and environmental inspections, morale was down and customer service nearly nonexistent.

Audit director Steve Danley said that "ongoing neglect" had contributed to these problems and that major changes were required at all levels of the department.

At an August meeting, the Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to create a task force to monitor improvements at the beleaguered agency.

"We can no longer allow these issues to continue," Board Chairwoman Patricia Bates said.

In a 15-page response, Speegle did not dispute the audit's findings and said the department had started to work on many of the issues outlined in the report.

But many of the improvements may increase costs at a time when the department's workload has dropped severely because of the bad economy. Raising fees is not an option, he wrote, and would be strongly opposed.

According to the report, the department's troubles appear to have started in 2002 when it went into the red by $8 million and had to borrow from the general fund. As more county areas were annexed by cities or became new cities, the number of people using the department's services decreased by about 43% over 10 years, to 119,480 in 2009. The faltering economy also has caused workloads to drop dramatically.

Since 2002, the staff has shrunk from 204 to 39. Employees began focusing on salvaging their jobs and performing billable work rather than customer service, the audit states. Water quality inspections were not always performed, and oil well inspections were dropped until early this year because the flat fee didn't cover costs.

"The taxpayers are paying a pretty penny for the services they're getting from their government," Bates said at the meeting this month, "and it should be delivered in an efficient and quality manner, and should be accountable. That's what's lacking here."

Bates said that nothing was off the table -- including closing the department.

This was the fifth major review of the department. The board will begin receiving regular monthly reports of the department's progress in September.

Jess Carbajal has taken over as interim director of O.C. Public Works.

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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