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Molina vows decisive action in Harper case

L.A. County's second-highest-ranking employee helped her son-in-law get an 'overcompensated' job, an audit reported.

October 27, 2009|Garrett Therolf

County Supervisor Gloria Molina said Monday that "swift and decisive action" would be taken against the county's second-highest-ranking employee after auditors found that she improperly helped her son-in-law obtain a county job that was "overcompensated" by nearly $1,000 a month.

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

Molina said she did not know what type of discipline would be imposed, but she said County Chief Executive William T Fujioka promised in a telephone conversation Monday to move quickly.

Fujioka said in an interview with The Times that Harper continued to be his chief deputy Monday as he pursued his own investigation of the allegations substantiated by Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe.

It has been six weeks since Fujioka received Watanabe's detailed report concluding that his top deputy 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 the job was needed.

The report also found that Harper helped to arrange his 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 every month. The extra pay represented 25% of his paycheck.

The Times reported on the audit Sunday after pursuing the audit 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.

"Everything is different," Molina said, "when it gets into public view. That's always the case. Action should have been taken against her very early and it didn't happen and that's disappointing. In too many cases, this sort of thing is swept under the rug."

Molina said nepotism was a well known and widespread problem in the ranks of the county's 100,000 employees.

"It's part of the way it works. It's awful," Molina said. "I'm very discouraged constantly. But very rarely do we know how it occurred or find instances with this sort of documented favoritism."

Meanwhile, the Harper case raised lingering questions about the supervisors' vetting of executive officer requests for new positions after auditors reported that the Fire Department job was approved without supporting documents showing it was needed.

Molina said she was still looking into the process that was used to approve the position, and her colleagues remained silent on this or any other aspect of the Harper case.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich could not be reached and Supervisors Don Knabe, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky declined to comment.

Harper declined to comment on the audit Friday.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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