Did County Employees Violate Ethics Rules?

Report remains secret: taxpayers may never know

A county-run program that provides wheelchairs and other medical devices for handicapped children was the subject of an investigation, but details of alleged wrong-doing by program employees may never be known by the public. The investigation of California Children's Services started in 2007, after a complaint from an unidentified whistleblower.

Records obtained by NBCSanDiego.com reveal that some disciplinary action was taken against one or more county employees. The documents are notes of staff meetings, in which employees and supervisors discussed allegations that therapists at the Children's Services program received gifts from certain vendors, an apparent violation of the county's ethics policies.

The minutes refer to lottery tickets and other gifts given to county therapists by vendors. Those therapists work closely with families, who have a choice of vendors from whom they can buy wheelchairs and other devices. The staff notes refer to one meeting in which employees and supervisors discussed a baseball game, with the implication that a vendor or vendors had given one or more staffers free tickets or other game-related gifts or freebies.

The minutes read:

"Q. What happened to the baseball game?

A. In short, we were told to cease and desist. The investigators decided that it would look bad."

Full details about the alleged gifts, and the possible conflict of interest posed by those gifts, are spelled out in an investigative report compiled by the county. But the county's top attorney and the head of the county's Health and Human Services Agency, have refused to make that report public.

County attorney John Sansone told NBCSanDiego.com and its media partner, voiceofsandiego.org, that the report is protected by "attorney-client privilege" because it was overseen by county lawyers, and that it cannot be seen by taxpayers, despite the details it contains about the publicly-funded program.

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