Corruption scandal plagues Oakland City Hall

October 21, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A report is accusing people in city government of favoritism and nepotism for hiring.

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The audit is 123 pages and it looked at hiring practices between 2003 till 2008. The city auditor says it confirms what many people in Oakland already believe to be true, that there has been corruption in City Hall when it comes to hiring city workers.

"The city's hiring system as it is, is broken and needs to be fixed," said City Auditor Courtney Ruby.

A system with no checks and balances -- that's how Ruby describes Oakland's hiring policies.

An independent audit by her office found multiple examples of favoritism, nepotism and poor personnel management creating the appearance of wrongdoing throughout City Hall.

"This audit was triggered by an ongoing perception throughout the city that a lack of leadership and accountability has allowed for unfair hiring activities," said Ruby.

The main offender is former Oakland City Manager Deborah Edgerly, who was fired by Mayor Ron Dellums last year.

The report says city leaders turned a blind eye to all the family members she hired, including a daughter who went through three police academies despite failing physical and academic tests and a son-in-law who scored in the bottom 20 percent of a fire department entry exam, but still advanced, even though other applicants with much higher scores were sent home.

The Dellums administration says the findings are old news and sensational, isolated examples of impropriety.

"Clearly there were some instances, a fairly limited number of instances of inappropriate hires of inappropriate promotions -- people who were relatives of high-ranking officials were hired. But I think in the whole report there were probably less than 10-15 people out of 5,000 employees," said City Administrator Dan Lindheim.

But some of the favoritism never made headlines, like a police officer investigated by Internal Affairs for several citizen complaints. The officer left the force and then re-applied and the background investigator knew about the checkered past and still recommended the officer for the academy.

Auditors had a difficult time unraveling hiring practices at the fire department, claiming records have been lost, damaged and mishandled.

The audit also found:

  • Little oversight of temporary employees -- one temporary worker was allowed to stay on the payroll for 11 years.

  • Poorly kept or nonexistent personnel records -- out of 13 employees who work directly with children and seniors, a majority of them had no personnel files proving they've undergone required background checks.

  • Questionable promotions -- one staffer was promoted to run the police department's entire financial division with just a high school diploma and little financial experience.

    ABC7 spoke with Deborah Edgerly and she strongly disputes the audit's findings. Edgerly had five relatives that were hired by the city, but she says it was all cleared by the city attorney when she became city manager.

    "I would venture to have them find one department head who I ever, ever did anything towards or said anything to influence them," said Edgerly.

    And she pointed out that there are many other high-ranking city officials whose family members also worked in city government and those cases aren't mentioned in the report.

    Edgerly has a pending lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination and believes the audit is politically motivated.

    "I had been directed to hire people for the Dellums administration, some of which I refused to hire."

    Edgerly is one of several former city managers whose leadership is criticized in the report. Those people plan to respond to it in the coming days.

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