Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"It comes down to one of the most basic themes in ethics, which is fairness," said Judy Nadler, a senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

Anytime there is an impression that a person has been granted special treatment due to his or her connections, it leads the public to question whether the person is qualified, Nadler said.

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Riverside County district attorney's allies fill posts costing $500,000

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06:31 AM PDT on Friday, September 12, 2008

The Press-Enterprise

Special Section: San Bernardino County Assessors Probe

After his 2006 election, Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco created a new group of staff and filled the unit partly with his one-time Assembly aides and former Republican political operatives.

The 10-member executive division, set up over time, costs taxpayers more than $500,000 each year in salaries alone and reports directly to the district attorney, a review of public records shows.

Some government watchdogs question such a staff because it raises issues of favoritism that elected leaders should be careful to avoid.

"It comes down to one of the most basic themes in ethics, which is fairness," said Judy Nadler, a senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

Anytime there is an impression that a person has been granted special treatment due to his or her connections, it leads the public to question whether the person is qualified, Nadler said.

"The appearance is very damaging to the public's trust," said Nadler, a former Santa Clara mayor. "The public already, unfortunately, is predisposed to believe government is an insider's deal."

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District Attorney Rod Pacheco

In an interview Thursday, Pacheco said positions in the executive division were open to applicants within county government and the private sector.

The Human Resources Department screened applicants, Pacheco said, and the Board of Supervisors signed off on the creation of some of the new positions.

More than one candidate was considered for each post, Pacheco said. The people he hired are qualified, he said.

"These are the rules we followed," he said. "We followed them with everyone in this office."

The district attorney's office last month denied a public records request by The Press-Enterprise to release the resumes of each member of the executive division.

Pacheco said he created the unit to help assist a growing district attorney's office and better reach out to the community.

The goal, according to Pacheco's official Web site: Oversee office events, publications, the release of information to the public and efforts to boost awareness about the district attorney's role in the criminal justice system.

"I think the division has been very effective in its goal," Pacheco said.

Routine for Newcomers

Setting up an office in the way an elected official sees fit is not uncommon, and newly elected leaders routinely do so. But executive staffs have come under scrutiny before.

Most recently, a grand jury faulted San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus for creating an executive support staff that was inexperienced and engaged more in "public image" work than in activities directly related to property appraisal.

That staff in the San Bernardino County assessor's office currently is being disbanded and reduced.

Pacheco's staff consists of a chief executive officer, a program manager, a legislative analyst, a staff writer, three public information officers, a legal support assistant, a secretary and an office assistant, according to the office's organizational chart.

The chief executive, program manager and staff writer positions had no county job classification, and Pacheco had to gain approval from the board of supervisors to create the posts, records show.

Pacheco said he modeled the staff after similar ones in San Diego County and in Maricopa County, Ariz.

"There were a lot of responsibilities I was creating," he said.

Without a new division, "We would have had to cannibalize people from other places," he said.

The executive-division staff responds to the news media, produces news releases and has helped organize events that are part of the annual National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

Executive-division staff also help with an intern program and internal events for employees. In addition, the staff produces a regular newsletter. Four have been produced since he took office in January 2007, with each consisting of two pages.

The first-term district attorney said he is particularly proud of the work the executive division has done to aid victims of crime. There is a separate victims services division, which provides crisis intervention and counseling, but he said the executive division works closely with it.

During an interview Thursday, Pacheco brought in -- unsolicited -- six crime victims and family members of crime victims to speak in support of the division.

Ron Shirley, of Riverside, whose son was killed in 1994, said the victims rights weeks helped connect his family with others going through similar circumstances.

"If they ever tried to cut it, I would be down here protesting," he said of the executive division.

Former Aides on Staff

The chief executive position is currently held by Stephanie Garthwaite, a former aide to Pacheco when he served in the state Assembly. She joined the district attorney's office in 2003 as a training officer.

In creating the position, the county's Human Resources Department made attempts to review other district attorneys offices but found nothing comparable, according to the measure before the Board of Supervisors on June 5, 2007.

The program manager coordinates and develops special projects for Pacheco, while the staff writer creates material for training manuals, Web sites, brochures and newsletters.

The legislative analyst tracks bills and other criminal justice issues before the state Legislature. The position currently is held by Kelly Jay, a former Pacheco Assembly aide.

The public information officer positions are filled by Michael Jeandron and Ryan Hightower. Ingrid Wyatt, a public information officer under Pacheco and former District Attorney Grover Trask, retired Wednesday.

Jeandron is the son of former Palm Springs police chief Gary Jeandron, the current Republican nominee for the 80th Assembly District.

Michael Jeandron served as an alternate delegate to last week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul -- as did Pacheco -- and is a former field representative to Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia , R-Cathedral City.

Pacheco said he never met Michael Jeandron until he applied for the position. Pacheco said Jeandron understands law enforcement and has community connections from his time working for Garcia.

Hightower is the younger brother of Robert Hightower, a Riverside County deputy district attorney, a former Assembly intern to Pacheco and a delegate to last week's Republican convention. Both Hightowers attended the events in St. Paul.

Ryan Hightower also is a former field representative to Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands.

Pacheco said he first met Ryan Hightower at his brother's law school graduation.

"Folks that work in legislative offices tend to have a lot of interaction with the community" making them perfect fits for his office, Pacheco said.

Experience a Big Factor

While he said the positions are open to multiple applicants, Pacheco acknowledged that past experience working with people is a major factor, citing Garthwaite as an example.

"A 15-minute interview: It is not a substitute for years of observation," he said.

Bob Stern, president for the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said Pacheco should have some freedom on who he can hire.

"Each elected official is going to have a different priority and structure of staff," Stern said. "If they are doing their job, it is appropriate."

Nadler, the ethics fellow, gives training and hosts seminars for government officials. The public is always wary of new positions, divisions and bureaucracy, she said. To ease those concerns, public officials should make sure there are clear job descriptions and expectations, she said.

"Transparency is really, really important," Nadler said. "It should not take a Freedom of Information request to find out who is working on behalf of the taxpayers, what their competencies are, how they were selected and what process was used to hire them."

Reach Duane W. Gang at 951-368-9547 or dgang@PE.com


Here's an outline of key positions in the executive division formed by Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco:

Chief executive officer: One position, salary range $92,000 to $127,000 a year

Program manager: One position, $67,500 to $92,700 a year

Legislative analyst: One position, $67,500 to $92,700 a year

Staff writer: One position, $55,000 to $72,000 a year

Public information

officers: Three positions, $67,500 to $92,700 a year

Source: Riverside County Human Resources Department


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