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A headline-grabbing state audit last month called attention to a sleepy DMV worker and a Cal Fire chief who had two of his employees help build him a fully wired tiki room on state property.
Both kept their jobs,and both anecdotes fueled national news stories highlighting outrageous misconduct by government employees.
The report, though, withheld details on misconduct by “executive management” in two state organizations. A summary of the “nonpublic” reports said the auditor found evidence of “nepotism, bad-faith hires, improper promotions and other misconduct by executive management within two state entities.”
State law allows the auditor to withhold investigative records and to address misconduct it uncovers by giving information to executives who can discipline a wrongdoer and protect a whistleblower. State Auditor Elaine Howle chose that option for the two “executive management” cases.
The auditor’s office rejected a Public Records Act request from The Sacramento Bee seeking more information about the findings, and it’s declining to release any other information.
Members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee can request records. The Bee checked with the offices of two lawmakers on the committee. Neither was familiar with the“nonpublic” reports.
State government has detailed hiring practices that are designed to prevent nepotism and favoritism. Nonetheless, allegations that executives favor their friends and family persist in the state workforce.
Last year, the State Personnel Board found that almost 20 percent of the employees at the Board of Equalization had a relative somewhere in the department.
Later, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration did a follow-up report on the employees it inherited from the Board of Equalization and disclosed that 30percent of them had a relative or close personal relationship on staff.
The auditor’s report on improper activities by state workers in several ways focused on managers failing to discipline employees for obvious misconduct.
The drowsy DMV worker, for instance, was known to sleep at her desk for three hours a day over almost four years. The Cal Fire deputy chief with the tiki room didn’t get written permission to build it, and never had a fire marshal inspect it. He received a 30-day suspension but kept his job.
It’s unclear what became of the executives whom the auditor faulted for nepotism and improper hires.
A CalPERS false alarm
More than 2,700 California state workers received alarming letters from CalPERS in recent weeks warning them that they were mistakenly enrolled in an incorrect retirement plan, and could owe money to the pension fund.
It turns out they don’t owe money to California Public Employees’ Retirement System because of the mistake, CalPERS spokeswoman Amy Morgan said, but they might have to reconfigure their long-term financial plans if they were counting on incorrect information.
The workers had been accruing pension benefits as if they were eligible for the kind of retirement plans that Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012 pension law phase out, ones that would have allowed them to retire with their full pension benefit at ages 55 or 60.
A CalPERS audit determined that the workers were actually eligible for the retirement plans the state began offering in 2013, ones that allow them to retire at age 62 with a formula that gives them 2 percent of their wages for each year of service.
Morgan said the employees were hired in the first six months of 2013, just after Brown’s pension law took effect.
Initially, the workers were placed in a kind of probationary CalPERS plan called the “alternative retirement program.” When that two-year period ended, their employers enrolled them in the older, more generous pension plans that Brown’s law aimed to phase out. Brown’s law also ended the alternative retirement program as of June 2013.
A wounded hospital worker
Mental health workers are holding a rally Friday outside Patton State Hospital to appeal for enhanced safety measures in the wake of a July attack that threatened the life of an employee there.
The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians plans to hold its rally outside the hospital entrance in San Bernardino County.
It reported that a patient there used a “makeshift weapon obtained from a paper towel dispenser” to slash a psychiatric technician’s face, hands and forearms. The worker had noticed the patient paying close attention to her days before the attack, and told supervisors about her worries about the patient.
“For too long now, the staff has been coming to work in fear that one day, we will not leave at the end of our shift in the same condition that we arrived,” CAPT Patton Chapter President Sylvia Hernandez said in a rally notice. “That fear turned into a reality for one of our members.