"Favoritism" and "Nepotism" Get City in Hot Water

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Oakland City Council makes big cuts to help eliminated the $42 Million budget deficit.

    A performance audit shows that the city of Oakland's hiring  practices are marred by favoritism and nepotism and must be reformed as soon  as possible, City Auditor Courtney Ruby said today.
         
    Ruby said a 123-page report, which was performed by a  Sacramento-based management consulting firm headed by former State Auditor  Kurt Sjoberg and Chief Deputy State Auditor Marianne Evanshenk, identifies  unfair hiring practices, improper promotions and mismanagement of records.  The report covers fiscal years 2003 though 2008.

    The audit also cites instances in which people were given  positions in city government because of personal connections even though they  were not eligible to be hired, did not meet minimum qualifications or had not  participated in competitive examinations, Ruby said.

    "The city's hiring system as it is now is broken and needs to be  fixed," Ruby said at a briefing with reporters in her office at City Hall.

    Ruby called on Mayor Ron Dellums to "immediately enact  improvements" that are contained in the report's 85 recommendations.

    Dellums' spokesman, Paul Rose, said the mayor and his staff were  already taking steps to improve the city's hiring practices before the report  was completed.

    City Council President Jane Brunner said she hasn't seen the  report yet but said the council "will take it very seriously" because it  asked for the audit.

    Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente said the report "gives us a picture of how this city functions or malfunctions."

    De La Fuente said he hopes it will prompt city leaders to take action but he's afraid that it will be swept under the rug and no meaningful changes will be made to the city's policies.

    "It seems to me that things don't change because there aren't any consequences for abusing the system," De La Fuente said.

    The report says that although the city's charter includes an anti-nepotism provision, "It does not provide adequate protection against favoritism in hiring practices as intended because it too narrowly defines  those who are barred from hiring close relatives."

    It says the city failed to prohibit former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, who was fired by Dellums last year, from "inappropriately hiring close relatives in lieu of well-qualified individuals."

    The city's failure communicated to city management "that favoritism is not only tolerated, but endorsed by the city's 'ultimate  appointing authority,'" the report says.

    Ruby said the audit illustrates that the city's current system provides opportunities for employees or groups of employees to both  perpetuate and conceal irregularities, such as the creation of "ghost  employees," who are fictitious or real individuals who do not work for the  city but receive a paycheck from the city.

    She said other examples are inappropriately appointing individuals to positions who are added to the city's payroll, changing employee pay rates  without checks and balances and keeping terminated employees on the city's  payroll.

    Ruby said "An egregious example of no checks and balances" was an incident in which an employee's employment status "mysteriously" changed from provisional to permanent but no records in any form were available to justify  the appointment.

    The audit says the Oakland Fire Department's process for screening and selecting employees lacks documentation to support its decisions.

    It says that the job candidate who scored the highest out of 550 applicants on physical and written tests and also had a percent score in his job interview wasn't selected to move forward in the process.

    In contrast, the report says Edgerly's son-in-law was part of the bottom 20 percent of candidates on the same list and only scored 75 percent  in his interview but was still selected to move on in the process.

    The report says, "We were unable to find supporting evidence that justified the selection decisions related to these two individuals  -- or any candidates for that matter."

    The audit says the Office of Parks and Recreation couldn't produce evidence that its employees had passed criminal background checks.

    It says when the city's personnel department investigated a complaint against an employee who had worked for Parks and Recreation for 10  years it discovered that the employee had a felony record. The employee has since been terminated.

    City Administrator Dan Lindheim, speaking for Dellums' administration, said in a written response to the audit that, "The city is  not in agreement with many of the comments, conclusions and recommendations in the report."

    Lindheim said, "The report suffers from paying excessive attention to, and drawing too many of its conclusions from, a limited number of well known, but isolated cases, which the report generalizes to the entire system."

    Lindheim said the report "produced sensationalized findings reflecting actions of the prior administration" of former Mayor Jerry Brown.
     

    Bay City News