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L.A. County's No. 2 official removed from post

Sharon Harper improperly helped her son-in-law obtain a county job that was 'overcompensated' by nearly $1,000 a month, an audit showed. She will return to a lesser post in the Sheriff's Department.

November 05, 2009|Garrett Therolf

Los Angeles County's second-highest-ranking employee was removed from her position, less than two weeks after The Times reported that county auditors found that she had improperly helped her son-in-law obtain a county job that was "overcompensated" by nearly $1,000 a month.

Sharon Harper, a veteran L.A. County manager, was the top deputy to the county's chief executive, William T Fujioka.

"She is no longer a member of my office," Fujioka said Wednesday.

Under the county's civil service rules, Harper will reclaim her former position in the Sheriff's Department, where she will be part of the management staff. The demotion carries a significant cut in pay and responsibility, a county official familiar with the situation told The Times.

The audit by county Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe concluded that Harper had a "clear conflict of interest" when she helped to create a position in the Los Angeles County Fire Department for Ed'Ward Rhone without submitting documents to supervisors showing that the job was needed.

The report also found that Harper helped to arrange Rhone's hiring into a more demanding job at the Department of Health Services, where he reported to work for only a few hours before a "lateral transfer" to a Fire Department position that should have paid $995 less a month. The extra pay represented 25% of his paycheck.

The Times reported on the audit after pursuing it for several weeks. County lawyers had denied the requests, saying that the report's disclosure would represent an unwarranted intrusion into Harper's privacy. It was eventually obtained independently.

In 2007, The Times reported that Harper's son, Christopher A. Bunn Jr., was given a new county job after he was twice disciplined for violating Sheriff's Department policy by associating with suspected criminals. At the time, he was employed as an aide at the Lancaster station.

In the wake of the Watanabe audit, Supervisor Gloria Molina expressed concern about the findings.

"Sharon [Harper] overrode rules that everyone needs to respect, including myself. No one is above them," Molina said in an interview last week. "The implications of what she did are very, very significant to our ability to manage the county."

The other four supervisors have declined to comment on the matter.

Rhone is still employed by the county Fire Department, although he may be removed if an ongoing investigation finds that he committed wrongdoing during the hiring process, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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