Later today, the city of San Diego plans to turn over two long-completed investigative reports into the conduct of the auditor’s office. Voice of San Diego has reported on the continued withholding of the documents and threatened to sue over their delayed release.
The two reports, which cost taxpayers more than $120,000, came from outside law firms hired to investigate allegations of unlawful harassment and retaliation against City Auditor Eduardo Luna and his top deputy, Chris Constantin. The firms finished both reports five months ago, and VOSD has pushed for their release since December. The city said it wouldn’t make the reports public until its Audit Committee decided whether to punish Luna and Constantin.
But Deputy City Attorney Bill Gersten said last week that the city had reversed course and would release the reports Monday, “come hell or high water.”
The auditor saga began almost a year ago when an audit employee slipped off a colleague’s exercise equipment during her lunch break. Employees complained to the city’s Human Resources Department that Luna and Constantin pressured them not to tell state investigators about previous workplace injuries, and the city launched what would mushroom into two expensive investigations of its own.
Here are three reasons why you should care what the reports say:
Who Watches the Watchdogs?
San Diego’s auditor is the city’s top internal cop.
He’s tasked with rooting out fraud, waste and abuse in the city and providing a safe-haven for whistle-blowers to report wrongdoing. His reports save the city money by pointing out inefficiencies and bad practices. In short, his job is to hold city employees accountable for their actions. The city has even beefed up the auditor’s role and independence after the numerous internal failures and weaknesses led to its pension and financial problems a decade ago.
But the auditor and his staff, like all city employees, should be held accountable as well. That principle is amplified when it comes to the watchdog for everyone else.
The city has admitted the allegations against Luna and Constantin are serious in its own documents. And sworn statements from employees interviewed during the investigations and reviewed by VOSD say Luna and Constantin created a hostile work environment, intimidated people participating in the inquiries and repeatedly tried to unmask the department’s whistle-blowers. The statements also allege Luna and Constantin frequently disparaged the investigation to audit employees and started criticizing the work of those they believed were part of it.
Who Watches the Watchdog-Watchers?
Accountability for the auditor is supposed to rest with the city’s Audit Committee, which was founded in the wake of the city’s fiscal crisis and consists of two council members and three outside financial experts.
The committee, led by City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, has held numerous closed-door meetings on the case over the past year, but has neither publicly cleared nor reprimanded Luna and Constantin. The Audit Committee has had both reports in its possession since early November, but blew through a self-imposed deadline to finish deliberating in March. The committee will discuss the issue again at its meeting Monday morning.
Through it all, Luna and Constantin have maintained their innocence. Their lawyer, former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, has contended the investigations began as retribution by former Mayor Jerry Sanders, who was upset auditors were taking a critical look at a key department under the mayor’s control.
The state found no wrongdoing in how the auditor’s office handled last year’s workplace injury. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has told Aguirre that the first investigation cleared his clients. Luna has formally asked the city to pay his nearly $40,000 personal attorney fees, contending that the allegations amounted to nothing. Constantin took a job late last month as finance director in the northern California city of Chico without resolution to his case.
Luna and Constantin are entitled to due process without the cloud of a lengthy, unresolved investigation hanging over them.
This Time and Money Could Be Spent Elsewhere
Taxpayers have already spent more than $120,000 on the two reports. That’s the equivalent of 2,666 additional hours at city recreation centers.
Taxpayers could be spending $40,000 more for Luna’s legal bills. A former audit employee has sued the city over much of the same allegations and also contends he was harassed because he’s gay.
And none of these actual or potential costs include the time elected officials and city staff have spent pondering the allegations and deliberating the issue in closed-door meetings.
Investigating one of the most powerful positions in the city took 10 months and more than $120,000. By the end of the day, we should know what it was all for.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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