City Public Utilities Department Hit with Cronyism Accusations

Public Utilities oversees the city's water and sewage services.

Widespread allegations of favoritism in hiring have been leveled against the city of San Diego's Public Utilities Department.

A new auditor's report says dozens of candidates hired in recent years had inside "influence and connections".

Public Utilities oversees the city's water and sewage services.

Investigators uncovered an employee vetting process they allege was "abused" -- so that in a third of the cases reviewed, "friends and family members" of city staff were hired "to the detriment of public job applicants."

"The selection process that was prescribed was not followed,” says City Auditor Eduardo Luna. “The appointing authority had given specific directions, and they didn't insure that the staff followed those directions to have a fair and objective process."

The audit was sparked by a whistle-blower's hotline tip, and found that 41 out of 120 labor applicants selected between December 2012 and September of last year should not have been hired.

Also, that those with "connections" to city staff: family, friends, relatives “presumably benefitted from a word-of-mouth selection process".

The report cited bad record keeping, and abuses that "compromised the City's ability to defend itself against alleged violations of State and Federal employment laws."

Taxpayer advocates are outraged, but hardly surprised.

“Basically, the fix is in,” Richard Rider, chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters said in a Friday interview with NBC 7.

“It is an unspoken but given policy that when possible,” Rider added, shifting to a bureaucratic point-of-view in the telling: "'we're going to hire relatives; we're going to hire friends. We'll also hire other people, once the relatives and friends are hired. And you don't hire 100 percent, because that would be too obvious'."

The auditors pointed out possible misdemeanor implications, and confidentially referred names and cases to Public Utilities for further investigation.

The department is said to be undertaking a series of recommend reforms, with top tier city officials urging employees to "call out" improprieties.

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