Capitol Alert

Chorus mounts for Senate to release nepotism investigation

The chorus of voices calling on the California Senate to release an investigation it commissioned into complaints of nepotism grew Wednesday, with two Republicans and two Democrats joining Democratic Sen. Mark DeSaulnier in saying the findings should be made public.

The Senate commissioned the investigation this spring after The Sacramento Bee revealed that a Capitol peace officer whose mother was the Senate’s head of human resources tested positive for cocaine the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty gunfight in December 2012. The incident unleashed employee complaints that Dina Hidalgo, the human resources director for 25 years, abused her position to help friends and family. The Senate has been billed more than $98,000 for the independent investigation it commissioned into the nepotism complaints. It rejected a request from The Bee for a copy of the report.

“Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg promised to all Californians that the Senate would be run with transparency. Hiding the results of an investigation into nepotism and retaliation is not transparency,” Republican Sen. Andy Vidak said in a statement released Wednesday. “When Sen. Kevin de León assumes the office of Pro Tem on Oct. 16, he should end the cover-up and make the report public.”

Vidak, of Hanford, is campaigning for re-election in the state Senate district that covers Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. Steinberg, though, said Wednesday that the report is confidential because of a legal settlement the Senate reached with Hidalgo. The Senate paid her $85,400 to leave, and a separation agreement says Hidalgo will not sue and that the Senate will not release the investigation except under court order.

“Making the legal settlement avoided the Senate and the taxpayers having to pay untold amounts of money in litigation that could last for many years. So I understand the argument on the other side but I think (keeping the report confidential is) justified,” Steinberg said while speaking with the press following an event at UC Davis..

“The Senate is a collection of hardworking public servants. There were some things that went wrong, and we’ve fixed them. We fixed them before I leave and I’m happy about that,” Steinberg added.

Pete Peterson, a Republican challenging Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla for secretary of state, also called for release of the report.

“The fact that the Democratic Senate leadership thinks they can keep secret an investigation into insider hiring practices that cost taxpayers almost $100,000 should be a sign to all Californians that our one-party state has gone too far,” Peterson said in a statement on his campaign website.

“My opponent has been a Democratic leader in the Senate for several years now, and he should be ashamed of this secrecy and the way Senate workers have been treated.”

Senate employees testified in Sacramento Superior Court this week that their workplace was ruled by a sense of favoritism for Hidalgo’s son and fear of retaliation if they complained. Hidalgo announced her retirement from the Senate last week, about 41/2 months after her son Gerardo Lopez was fired when The Bee asked about a toxicology report showing Lopez had cocaine in his system the night of the shooting. Lopez’s boss, Chief Sergeant-at-arms Tony Beard, stepped down in May and acknowledged that he knew Lopez had tested positive for cocaine but didn’t tell Senate leaders.

DeSaulnier, a Concord Democrat who is running for Congress, said Monday that the three departures from the Senate were not enough to assure the public that the Senate’s problems had been resolved. He called on Steinberg to release the findings of the nepotism investigation. Democratic colleague Sen. Richard Roth had a similar message when interviewed Wednesday. He said even if there are elements of the report that need to be withheld to protect employee privacy, any conclusions and recommendations from the investigation should be made public.

“The public deserves to know what exactly it was that was done improperly and what is being recommended as a fix for the problem in the future,” said Roth, of Riverside, who chairs the Senate’s ethics committee. “What are we doing to implement the recommendations?”

Former Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, posted a comment Tuesday on Twitter Tuesday saying, “the report belongs to the people – release it.”

“The Senate has suffered from serious blows with respect to ethics and behavior. And there’s a tarnish on the upper house that has been so revered and needs to be re-elevated back to its appropriate stature,” Romero said in a phone interview Wednesday.

“The public should be informed of the changes that are being made. ... These are taxpayer dollars.”

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