Firings at L.A. building department are up sharply, G.M. says
The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has fired 10 employees for wrongdoing so far this year -- five times the number who lost their jobs for such reasons over the past decade, the agency’s top executive said.
Although the department is known as the subject of an FBI bribery sting, six of the 10 workers were terminated following an investigation into the falsification of time cards, said Robert “Bud” Ovrom, the department’s general manager.
Ovrom said five clerks and a supervisor were fired earlier this year after a bureau chief showed up at the department’s Van Nuys office shortly after 7 a.m. and found some of them missing. In one report on the case, investigators concluded that five workers had said they were at work "when in fact they were either out sick, taking time off ... or on vacation."
"In the kind of ethical crisis that we face, there has to be zero tolerance," Ovrom said.
Payroll problems have also been an issue at the Animal Services Department, where personnel investigators have been looking into allegations of missing dogs, missing guns and falsified time cards.
Four of the six who were fired over time-card issues at Building and Safety have challenged the decision, filing appeals with the Civil Services Commission.
Union representatives have disputed the notion that the six employees committed wrongdoing, saying instead that Ovrom’s department engaged in a “rush to judgment.” Cheryl Parisi, chairwoman of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 36, said the workers who were fired did not cheat the city of any hours. Instead, they made up that time during other points in their pay period and in some cases, were not gone at all, she said.
“In many instances, these workers were at work on days that they were alleged to have been absent,” Parisi said.
Asked about Parisi's statements, Ovrom said both sides "will have an opportunity to spell out their positions" in the coming weeks.
Between 2001 and 2010, 23 people were terminated at Building and Safety, officials said. Of that, 16 had issues with their performance, three had attendance problems, two had not kept their credentials current and two were involved in wrongdoing.
In April, FBI arrested two inspectors -- Hugo Gonzalez and Raoul Germain -- on bribery charges. Both of them pleaded guilty and were fired. Two others have been fired in that probe, with one filing an appeal of his termination.
Ovrom said he considers falsification of time cards to be "on a continuum" with the solicitation of bribes. He said he hoped the personnel cases in the Van Nuys office would send a message to other employees.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety General Manager Robert "Bud" Ovrom. Credit: Gary Freidman/Los Angeles Times