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Top L.A. County official removed from job after audit found she improperly hired relative

November 4, 2009 |  6:16 pm

L.A. County's second-highest-ranking employee has been removed from her position, less than two weeks after The Times reported that county auditors found that she had improperly helped her son-in-law obtain a county job that was "overcompensated" by nearly $1,000 a month.

Sharon Harper, a veteran L.A. County manager, was the top deputy to the county's chief executive.

"She is no longer a member of my office," County Executive William T Fujioka said.

Under the county's civil service rules, Harper will reclaim her former position in the Sheriff's Department where she will be part of the management staff. The demotion carries a significant cut in pay and responsibility, according to a county official familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The audit by county Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe concluded that Harper had a "clear conflict of interest" when she helped to create a position in the Los Angeles County Fire Department for Ed'Ward Rhone without submitting documents to supervisors showing that the job was needed.

The report also found that Harper helped to arrange Rhone's hiring into a more demanding job at the Department of Health Services, where he reported to work for only a few hours before a "lateral transfer" to a Fire Department position that should have paid $995 less every month. The extra pay represented 25% of his paycheck.

The Times reported on the audit Sunday after pursuing the audit for several weeks. County lawyers had denied the requests, saying that the report's disclosure would represent an unwarranted intrusion into Harper's privacy. It was eventually obtained independently.

In 2007, The Times reported that Harper’s son, Christopher A. Bunn Jr., was given a new county job after he was twice disciplined for violating Sheriff's Department policy by associating with suspected criminals. At the time, he was employed as an aide at the Lancaster station.

In the wake of the Watanabe audit, Supervisor Gloria Molina expressed concern about the findings and said "the implications of what [Harper] did are very, very significant to our ability to manage the county." The other four supervisors have declined to comment on the matter.

 Rhone is still employed by the county's Fire Department, although he may be removed if an ongoing investigation finds that he committed wrongdoing during the hiring process, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

-- Garrett Therolf