At best for San Diego City Auditor Eduardo Luna, two outside investigative reports released Monday revealed a dysfunctional office.
Audit employees complained to investigators about pay, performance evaluations, lack of direction, nonexistent policies, constant turnover and demoralization. As an investigator plumbed serious allegations against Luna and his then-deputy Chris Constantin, employees complained they felt intimidated and feared reprisal.
“Some days it is a joke and some days it is a nightmare,” one audit employee told an investigator.
As far as actionable wrongdoing goes, the reports mostly spare Luna and Constantin. The whole case ended with a whimper Monday when the city’s Audit Committee ordered Luna to undergo unspecified internal improvements to his office. Constantin took a job with a northern California city two weeks ago.
The investigations may lack the kind of bombshell admissions that would force further action against the auditors, but they do contain some surprising revelations. Here are three:
The Boomerang Effect
Last summer, Luna held a staff meeting to cheer up an office besieged by low morale.
In it, he blamed the investigation on Mayor Jerry Sanders, who he believed was orchestrating the initial inquiry as payback for critical audits. He told his employees Sanders’ attempt had backfired because he didn’t have the authority to investigate the auditor’s office.
“The investigation was over,” Luna recalled telling his staff.
The pep talk backfired.
A second outside investigator concluded that Luna and Constantin’s actions after the first investigation began, including Luna’s speech at the July staff meeting, further demoralized staffers. After all, the complaints had come from within the auditor’s office, not the mayor’s office. The investigator also found Constantin went around the department trying to suss out who had made the allegations and why. Multiple employees told the investigator they felt fearful, threatened and intimidated.
“The environment smacks of hypocrisy, and as a result of the latest series of events I no longer feel comfortable discussing anything with management regarding administrative issues or the audit processes,” one employee told the second investigator.
The Facebook Plot
The first investigator found a Facebook exchange between a former employee and one still working in the office at the time of the workplace injury that sparked the initial investigation. The employee wrote:
A few weeks ago we decided we didn’t have smoking gun (sic). But lying to [state investigators] might be it. IF someone makes that claim an investigation is done and if employees tell the true(sic)…well the investigation would have to show lies and cover up.
The Facebook post turned out to be a smoking gun of a different kind. The investigator considered it evidence of employees’ motive to oust Constantin, and cleared Constantin of all wrongdoing.
“The desire of the complaining witnesses to allege misconduct against Mr. Constantin, the inconsistency in their stories, as well as their propensity to draw unreasonable and exaggerated conclusions and/or engage in pure speculation, impairs their credibility and makes their accounting of what took place unreliable and not credible,” she wrote.
The Neverending Story
The city’s Audit Committee, which oversees Luna, had both investigative reports in its hands since early November. The whole process, from workplace injury to Monday’s completion of the inquiry, took almost a year.
It turns out Luna and Constantin played a big role in the delay.
The first investigator wanted to interview Luna and Constantin in July. The pair’s lawyer, former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, at first wouldn’t allow them to talk.
The second investigator ran into the same problems. The investigator attached to his report a spreadsheet of all the times he tried to contact the pair.
Sworn statements from the interviews, including ones from Luna and Constantin, were missing signatures. Ed Moreno, one of the employees who complained, didn’t sign his statement, either.
The investigator used all three statements anyway so as not to further delay his report.
“Ironically, this is the very type of conduct that OCA investigators identify as ‘red flags’: a lack of structure and organized control in the department, ‘going around and around’ in an effort to hinder or delay an investigation and general ‘push back,’” the investigator wrote.
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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