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O.C. grand jury again criticizes public administrator/public guardian's office

Jurors accuse the agency of 'egregious' mismanagement and call for a complete restructuring. Their report is a follow-up to one released in May.

July 01, 2009|Tami Abdollah

The Orange County grand jury issued a scathing report Tuesday criticizing the public administrator/public guardian's office for "egregious" mismanagement, including questionable promotions that cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

The report, the jurors' second on the subject, concluded "that a complete restructuring" of the office was necessary.

"It was outrageous behavior," jury foreman Jim Perez said.

The public administrator settles the estates of the deceased; the public guardian takes care of people under legal conservatorship. The department handles estates valued at more than $38 million each year, according to the report.

In a move to reduce county costs, the office of the public guardian was split from the Health Care Agency in 2005 and combined with the public administrator.

But instead of saving money, the first grand jury report said, costs went up because of additional management salaries. Staffing levels have risen from seven managers for 67 employees at a cost of $529,796 to 10 managers for the same number of employees at $1.04 million.

Jurors intended to issue only one report on the agency. But within two weeks of its release in May, they got a "significant" number of calls and letters informing them that not only had management not changed, but that the situation had worsened. Another person was promoted to a newly created management position. Meanwhile, staffing levels of caseworkers and their caseloads remained the same.

"The things we highlighted in the first report were still being done very flagrantly," juror Janet Buell said.

In a statement, the department said that Tuesday's supplemental report was "redundant" and that the agency would issue a formal response addressing the issues. The department "continues to operate in a fiscally conservative manner while following all of the policies, procedures and practices" of the county.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Patricia Bates said the board had a responsibility to seriously look at grand jury reports. She said supervisors also would need to do their own audit of the agency.

Department head John Williams will address the board regarding the first report on July 14. He could not be reached for comment.

"The fact that these recommendations came in May and were not immediately implemented is not necessarily a problem," Bates said. "Sometimes you can't do these things overnight."

But Williams "needs to have the answers to the management practices and promotion practices," Bates said.

According to an employee quoted in the report, temporary promotions were used to "gain support and loyalty" within the agency.

A look at human resources records showed "many instances" of people promoted and then demoted, the report said.

"Someone else needs to make changes," Buell said, "because this management isn't."

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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