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Editorial: Impending decision of Dana Point Harbor manager is tainted

Orange County’s handling of Dana Point’s revitalization and management personnel propagates government mistrust.

DANA POINT — Orange County’s brass will soon make a decision of who will lead Dana Point Harbor and its long-awaited revitalization. One of estimated five or six candidates up for the job is none other than Brad Gross.

Yes, that Brad Gross, the former county employee who managed these quiet waters along the South Orange County coast. He supposedly “retired” on May 12, 2016, days ahead of the county’s Auditor Controller release of an audit report finding a lack of institutional control on his watch. (A second audit report, released just a few weeks ago, found other management control weaknesses during his tenure.)

We’re not yet one year removed from his “retirement,” and Gross is in the running for the very job he vacated.

Now Gross is not yet hired – no one is, according to multiple sources, including Orange County. Then again this isn’t the point. Why was Gross allowed to interview for this position in the first place?

Sure the four corners of his resume probably make him the most qualified applicant, and he certainly knows the ins and outs of Dana Point Harbor.

However, are we okay with paying Gross a taxpayer funded salary of $76,960 to $136,760, plus benefits, in light of management transgressions occurring on his watch? (Gross, according to California’s State Controller, earned $195,694 in total wages in 2015.)

Should our government be considering candidates for top offices – or any office – which were associated with official findings of management weaknesses (in the same exact job, no less)?

We also question whether Gross honors freedom of the press. Gross once personally prevented Ambrosia Brody, The Log’s former reporter and editor, from attending a public meeting in Dana Point.

Let’s also factor in the county has spent more than 20 years trying to revitalize Dana Point Harbor, spending a whopping $20 million of taxpayer money on plans, reviews, consultants, analyses and management firms … but nothing more than a few roadside improvements near the waterfront to show for all the time and money spent.

A current estimate of the revitalization’s budget is pegged at $175 million, meaning Orange County’s taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $200 million for a harbor rebuild (which might not be completed for several years).

All this put together – you tell me, how can one not be at least skeptical of the way our government functions?

Certainly there is nothing against Gross submitting an application for his old job, but why are county officials even allowing him to be considered for the director position in light of the circumstances surrounding his departure?

In what business or industry is it a good practice to interview someone for the very same job he or she was found to be have been found deficient at in a formal audit?

His failure to maintain institutional control over an unauthorized discount program providing tangible benefits to public employees should be enough reason to keep Gross out of the running – regardless of his qualifications or right to apply for the position.

An audit report released in May 2016 revealed his department abused a hotel discount program.

The county audit report, issued by Orange County’s Auditor-Controller’s office, implicated Gross and other public employees failing to exercise institutional control of the hotel discount program.

County employees were allowed to take advantage of the discount program and book rooms at Dana Point Marina Inn for $50 per night – significantly cheaper than the $162 per night the hotel charged for market rate guests during Memorial Day weekend in 2016.

The audit report revealed at least one public official took advantage of the discount program – which was never approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors and deemed to be unofficial – for several months.

Dana Point Marina Inn is a county-owned hotel; Gross, during his roughly nine years as harbor director, effectively served as the hotel’s landlord.

A second audit report released by the Auditor-Controller’s office in March found significant control weaknesses in the management of vendor operations at Dana Point Harbor between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016. Deficiencies were specifically found in management and oversight of a marina operator and a failure to report tenant rent payments.

The audited time period overlaps with Gross’s tenure as the harbor’s director.

County officials might have been content labeling Gross’s departure as a “retirement,” but, in light of how it coincided with at least two audit reports finding management deficiencies under his watch, the departure could just as easily be considered as a “resignation” in some corners.

Dana Point Harbor has been without a dedicated, full-time director or manager since Gross vacated his position, and the department he oversaw was collapsed into another, larger county agency (O.C. Parks).

Orange County announced in December 2016 it was searching for someone to fill the new harbor manager position – and Gross, according to several sources who spoke with The Log anonymously, interviewed for the position.

The county itself has been mum on the hiring process, telling The Log the identity of the candidates could not be revealed, as it would conflict with the hiring committee’s deliberations.

A county spokesperson even cited case law in defending why the identities of the candidates of a public office are currently held in anonymity.

“Information regarding candidate names and selection are protected by the deliberative process privilege,” Carrie Braun, Orange County’s public information officer, told The Log, citing Times Mirror Co. vs. Superior Court (1991 – 53 Cal. 3d 1325, 1342). “Staff evaluations and recommendations discussing an applicant’s fitness for appointment are covered by this exemption. “

She added county officials are still deliberating candidacies, though other sources indicated a decision could be made within days.

Indeed, as of April 20, no one has been announced as the successful candidate. Whether or not Gross actually regains the top management position at Dana Point Harbor is irrelevant.

The fact he was among the final batch of candidates interviewed for the harbor director opening is enough to raise substantive concern. The county’s own audit reports should wave many bright red flags about whether Gross is capable of overseeing Dana Point Harbor again.

We don’t have any assurances the management weaknesses occurring under Gross’s watch, established in two county audits, won’t be repeated again should he be allowed to return. The lack of a transparent hiring process does nothing to quell these concerns.

Of course your concerns do not have to be held back. Please contact the following public officials to share your thoughts on whether county officials should be more discriminatory in whom it considers for employment.

Remind anyone you contact they are our public servants. Government, no matter how you slice it, must serve the public. We need to hold our officials – elected or otherwise – accountable. (See sidebar for representatives and their contact information.)

Parimal M. Rohit photo

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5 thoughts on “Editorial: Impending decision of Dana Point Harbor manager is tainted

  • April 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm
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    “Gross once personally prevented Ambrosia Brody, The Log’s former reporter and editor, from attending a public meeting in Dana Point.” – this should never happen and I would question any public official’s motivation for doing this.

    Reply
  • April 21, 2017 at 4:52 am
    Permalink

    Dear Mr. Rohit,

    I never make comments on articles, but this one irks me. I am a long time avid boater in Dana Point and have spent time there almost daily for over thirty years. I have followed the “long awaited revitalization” of the harbor with great interest since its inception. I agree with your statement that “the county has spent more than 20 years trying to revitalize Dana Point Harbor, spending a whopping $20 million of taxpayer money on plans, reviews, consultants, analyses and management firms … but nothing more than a few roadside improvements near the waterfront to show for all the time and money spent.” However, I think you have totally tipped your hand as to your motivation for this article by stating “We also question whether Gross honors freedom of the press. Gross once personally prevented Ambrosia Brody, The Log’s former reporter and editor, from attending a public meeting in Dana Point.” As always, there are 2 sides to every story, including yours, and I would love to hear the other side. You seem to be on a witch hunt here. We don’t know and you have not presented all of the facts of the County Audit. Exactly what degree of “lack of institutional control on his watch” was there and was he personally responsible for. Again, 2 sides to every story. When I read in the OC register that Brad had quit, retired or whatever over this I sincerely believe he did so because he was pissed off about this petty Audit that went out of its way to find anything out of order just to justify their existence. Just my opinion. I know most of the vendors in the harbor and I have never heard anything negative about Brad Gross in all the years he has been involved. If the worst thing all politicians or public servants, past present or future, ever did was abuse a hotel discount this world would be am much better place. I do not know Brad and have never spoken to him. However, if he were to come back in the same capacity I think the County should offer him a lifetime discount to the hotel, put a statue of him at the harbor entrance and have an annual parade in his honor.

    “Failing to exercise institutional control of the hotel discount program.” REALLY??!!

    Brad did a great job before and he’ll do an even better job in the future. I hope he gets it and personally invites you to all future public meeting in Dana Point.

    I love reading the log and will continue to do so. I just hope it focuses more on informative and factual articles where readers can form their own opinions and less op/ed stuff. Maybe do an article on the County’s “Mission Statement” for the harbor versus the revitalization plan.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • April 21, 2017 at 1:37 pm
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      Mr. Richardson,
      Please read all the audit reports.
      This is not about Hotel Discounts. Brad Gross was not managing any of the operating agreements as he was tasked to. That was his main job. No cash controls, no documentation, poor financial accounting, etc. He did not pay attention to anything, or looked the other way. Which was it? At any rate, he did not perform his duties.
      The Chamber of Commerce gave him an honor that he was not deserving of. He is a very poor business manager, period.

      Reply
      • April 21, 2017 at 1:53 pm
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        The Chamber award was for effectively managing two large marinas, launch ramp and dry storage operations, the harbor’s support facilities and its commercial component.

        Well, thats what we all assumed. The Audits prove otherwise.

        Thank you Log for keeping us informed as to the facts. Keep it up please!

        Reply
  • April 21, 2017 at 7:31 am
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    The fact is Orange County has a long history of ethical violations by elected and appointed officials, as well as by employees that serve its multitude of county agencies.

    If you connect the dots between the county and the management of Dana Point Harbor, the picture paints an image of violations, bullying and poor management of tax payer money.

    Trust in government is dependent upon officials that place the public interest ahead of their own, Mr. Gross had his chance and failed. Orange County tax payers deserve better.

    Reply

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TAKE ACTION - Orange County Officials

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett

Lisa.Bartlett@ocgov.com

714-834-3550

Supervisor Andrew Do

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714-834-3110

Supervisor Michelle Steel

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714-834-3220

Supervisor Todd Spitzer

Todd.Spitzer@ocgov.com

714-834-3330

Supervisor Shawn Nelson

Shawn.Nelson@ocgov.com

714-834-3440

Bill Reiter, Parks Division Manager, O.C. Parks

Bill.Reiter@ocparks.com

949-923-2291 

Stacy Blackwood, O.C. Parks Director

Stacy.Blackwood@ocparks.com

949-923-3743

Frank Kim, Orange County CEO

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714-834-2345