MOORLACH UPDATE — Voice of OC — April 2, 2013

The Voice of OC provides the details of today’s Board meeting, which will last all day as we interview eleven candidates. The final interview will be with Renee Ramirez, the subject of the article below. The Board meeting can be observed online.

Interim Clerk-Recorder Readies for Tough Job Interview

By NORBERTO SANTANA JR. And ADAM ELMAHREK

When the Orange County Board of Supervisors sits down Tuesday for public interviews with nearly a dozen finalists to fill out the current term as Clerk-Recorder, no job applicant faces a tougher interview than the department’s interim leader, Renee Ramirez.

As a Latina Republican, Ramirez offers special appeal for the OC GOP, providing the party a countywide elected office holder that can help outreach efforts at a critical time.

Yet Ramirez – who took the helm last December after her predecessor Democrat Tom Daly was elected to the state Assembly – is facing difficult questions from county supervisors following several internal audits criticizing Daly’s handling of internal reserves, building purchases and a questionable consulting arrangement for Daly ally and Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman.

“I had to kind of immediately start to defend some of the processes and decisions that [Tom] made,” said Ramirez, a 22-year department veteran who sat down with Voice of OC reporters last week to discuss the swirling controversies around her embattled department.

With Daly and Brandman gone from the office and avoiding reporters questions, Ramirez, who was Daly’s second in command for the past decade, has confronted a series of audits and press inquiries on her own in recent months.

On Tuesday, Ramirez will face these questions publicly. And she’ll have to convince supervisors that she is a leader who knows the department inside and out, but also someone who was kept out of the loop on key decisions.

If her comments to reporters are any indication, Ramirez will provide a harsh assessment of Daly’s leadership.

While Ramirez said Daly “was good to me personally,” she was critical of his management style saying that he made decisions on his own without involving senior officials, noting that senior staff meetings were a rarity.

“It was Tom and one person,” she said, adding: “Tom wanted to make the internal decisions solely.”

Ramirez said Daly also left behind a largely poisoned relationship with county supervisors along with a strained office morale fueled by questioned consulting contracts, hirings and promotions.

For example, Ramirez said Daly never revealed to her a 2009 compliance review that found the department had been routinely splitting contracts to avoid going to the Board of Supervisors for spending approvals.

The first time Ramirez had seen the report is when a Voice of OC reporter showed it to her, she said last week.

Those kinds of consulting arrangements came under scrutiny in recent months with Voice of OC publishing a series of articles detailing a questionable sole source contract awarded to Daly’s political ally and Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman just as he was gearing up his city council campaign last year.

Under Daly’s direction, Brandman was paid up front for a report on expanding facilities that went on for nearly a year without being finished.

Portions of the draft report, submitted by Brandman for contract payments, were heavily criticized for being inadequate and containing an entire section largely plagiarized from Wikipedia.

Ramirez signed off on the payments for draft work, triggering questions from supervisors John Moorlach and Todd Spitzer, who both criticized Brandman as being inappropriately compensated.

Ramirez said she didn’t know the draft report was so incomplete. “I think it was bad on his part, he should have taken the project more seriously,” Ramirez said of his draft.

“I owed the citizens of Orange County to get their money’s worth,” she said.

When she found out, she gave Brandman a tight deadline.

“I was mad, I was very upset, I was very hurt that [Brandman] would put me in that type of position,” Ramirez said. “I gave him a deadline, I said I want it by Friday. We had that conversation… I said don’t give me garbage.”

Brandman submitted the completed study March 22.

Ramirez said Brandman’s final report – which studies whether Western Orange County needs a clerk-recorder branch office – does provide some useful information. She pointed to its demographics and an analysis of the reduction in vehicle mileage resulting from a new office.

But the information most vital to deciding whether to open a new branch – a review of potential commercial real estate locations – is wholly inadequate, Ramirez said.

Ramirez said her lack of knowledge about the county’s internal audits into the office and the failures of the Brandman contract are key examples of Daly’s management style.

Daly kept operations in the office very separate with a different top staffer for human resources, operations and archives, she said. Ramirez handled operations.

“It wasn’t a team,” Ramirez said. “I definitely think that his (Daly’s) management style didn’t work well in this office in regards to how things were reviewed and approved.”

Ramirez acknowledges there are morale problems in the department stemming from little opportunity for promotions and general suspicion among workers about hiring and contracting done for purely political aims.

Ramirez has herself drawn fire from some employees in the clerk-recorder’s office – who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation – but accuse her in letters to the county’s civil grand jury of the same cronyism as Daly.

For example, workers say Ramirez had a hand in promoting her cousin, who works in the office.

Ramirez says that’s not true. She says the promotion was granted by former Clerk-Recorder Gary Granville. “She doesn’t work for me, there’s a direct separation… I’ve even asked that she be transferred to another department,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said she has already moved to decentralize the human resources function away from the clerk-recorder’s office to address such concerns.

Yet there are broader communication problems Ramirez says she is also focused on fixing.

While Daly recommended Ramirez to take over as interim leader, supervisors didn’t even respond to his email.

“He rarely communicated with them,” Ramirez said of Daly’s relationship with the board of supervisors. “It wasn’t a positive relationship.”

Ramirez wants to change that and heighten transparency for the board of supervisors and the department’s employees, promising management team meetings and better communication with supervisors.

She points to the near daily memos to the board about the Brandman contract as evidence that she has already delivered on those commitments.

Ramirez says her biggest focus now is on completing a county audit of fund 12D, the restricted internal account that for years has drawn suspicion from county supervisors.

County Internal Auditor Peter Hughes recently told supervisors that auditors are scrambling to reconstruct the account’s financial paper trail to complete a report about the fund for this Spring.

The results of a previous audit found that Daly and other county officials misled supervisors into buying a building for the clerk-recorder without telling the board that needed renovations would cost more than the building and that the true source of revenue for the purchase was fund 12D.

Daly issued a strong rebuke of the internal audit from his Assembly office stationary, saying they had been informed and scolded supervisors for not asking more questions if they had doubts.

All of these issues, Ramirez said, “have to be dealt with, whether it’s me or somebody else.”

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

April 3

2008

Peggy Lowe and Tony Saavedra of the OC Register provided the story on another jail incident in “Inmate dies after deputies restrain him and use Taser — Jason Jesus Gomez was taken off life support Tuesday night, his brother says. Family says Gomez was trying to get his life together.” Here are the opening and closing paragraphs:

Six days after a 35-year-old Anaheim construction worker turned himself over to authorities he was brain dead following a violent altercation with Orange County Sheriff’s deputies who used a Taser gun to restrain him.

The death again prompted concerns about the management of the county’s jails, as the sheriff’s department continues to react to the October 2006 murder of inmate John Chamberlain in the Theo Lacy facility. An 8,000-page grand jury report is set to be released on Monday and the panel just last month chastised the department for violating a 20-year-old protocol that calls for the district attorney’s office to investigate jail deaths.

Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson called members of the Board of Supervisors with the news of Gomez’s injuries last week, said Supervisor John Moorlach, then followed up with a confidential memo on Monday. Moorlach said he’s glad that the board recently approved an Office of Independent Review, which will monitor the jails, and that he is pleased that Anderson has hired Michael Gennaco, a Los Angeles jail watchdog, to investigate Gomez’s death.

“I’ve had a burden about this matter since I got here,” Moorlach said of his concerns about the sheriff’s department. “The Chamberlain death had a pretty major impact with me personally. Some things take time. So we’re dealing with it.”

Anderson’s memo reported to supervisors that an unidentified inmate was in a “vegetative state” after the March 25 incident and that next of kin had been notified because of fears that Gomez would die. Anderson, who is in the running for an appointment by supervisors for interim sheriff, also mentioned that the district attorney was investigating the case.

“Transparency is of great importance,” Anderson’s memo says.

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