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City Auditors Claim Abuse, Favoritism In Public Utilities’ Hiring Process

The city of San Diego will investigate allegations of abuse and favoritism in the Public Utilities Department's hiring of laborers over the last few years, according to a report issued Thursday.

Prepared by city auditors, the report said 41 of 120 laborers put to work between December 2012 and July 2015 shouldn't have been hired because staff didn't use approved applicant screening criteria. Department officials who approved the hiring policies for the highly coveted jobs didn't ensure that they were used, the auditors found.

"Friends and family members of city staff were allegedly selected to be hired to the detriment of public job applicants," the auditors wrote. "Although we did not confirm the relationships, our investigation found sufficient evidence to support the allegation of abuse in the applicant selection phase of the hiring process."

The auditors said they began their investigation after receiving a complaint and later expanded their examination after confirming the allegations.

The eight recommendations in the report include having the Personnel Department conduct an independent investigation into the Public Utilities Department's hiring practices to see if employees involved in interviewing prospective laborers violated city processes or personnel regulations.

According to the report, the City Charter calls the willful failure to follow civil service guidelines a misdemeanor and exposes the city to legal action for violating state and federal employment law. The auditors said they were stymied by missing and incomplete documentation despite personnel rules for retaining records.

Management responded by saying the Personnel Department's Equal Employment Investigations Office will conduct an investigation and aim to have it completed by next June.

The auditors also recommended that the department develop procedures to document and verify that applicant screening criteria are accurately and consistently applied.

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