David Zenger has lately become a fixture at Anaheim City Council meetings, where he thunders during public comments against what he considers the council majority poor stewards on behalf of the taxpayers.
The Voice of OC yesterday reported on what has been common knowledge among county insiders for several weeks: Zenger is suing the County of Orange because Supervisor Shawn Nelson fired him from his staff this spring, and is seeking either $1,014,000 of the taxpayers’ money, or a $135,000 a year job of his choice in the county bureaucracy plus $100,000:
Dave Zenger, until recently a senior aide to Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson, has filed a legal claim against the county alleging that Nelson abruptly fired him after other county supervisors complained about Zenger conducting, at Nelson’s direction, numerous investigations into alleged improper use of public funds.
“Mr. Zenger was demonstrably terminated in retaliation for Mr. Zenger’s conscientious inquiries and investigations into questionable or possibly illegal schemes, projects and activities by county personnel,” reads a June 6 letter sent by Zenger’s attorney, Steven Dial – who also represents county Human Resources manager Kathleen Tahilramani in another whistleblower lawsuit against the county, which is scheduled for trial on Nov. 18.
“These projects were initiated and directed by Supervisor Nelson as well as Supervisors [Janet] Nguyen and [Pat] Bates, and often featured the involvement of lobbyist Ruby Wood. These same individuals, as a result of Mr. Zenger’s conscientious inquiries into possible wrongdoing, conspired among themselves and pressured Supervisor Nelson in particular to terminate Mr. Zenger in retaliation for his protected activity,” reads the June 6 claim letter.
It’s worth noting here that staff to county supervisors serve at the pleasure of their bosses, and can be fired at any time the boss decides he or she no longer wants or needs their services.
Also from the article:
Nelson disputed that Zenger was fired because he was a whistleblower instead saying he was insubordinate and disrespectful.
“Dave worked hard to investigate any and every issue that came on the agenda and he did a great job,” Nelson said. “But his dismissal had nothing to do with that.”
“His ability to do investigative work is what kept him around not what formed the basis for his dismissal,” Nelson add.
“It was personal between Dave and I. He was disrespectful to me repeatedly,” Nelson said.
Here you have it. Supervisor Nelson was absolutely within his rights to dismiss an insubordinate at-will employee. Does anyone seriously interested in having a functioning county government support creating a situation in which a supervisor cannot fire an employee who is not doing what they are told to do or doing what they’ve been instructed to stop doing? Exactly how does that serve the interests of taxpayers?
In the complaint, Zenger’s lawyer goes on at length painting Zenger as the Indispensable Man without whom the we will be defenseless against corruption and incompetence.
As noted above, Zenger is seeking a mountain of taxpayer dough or a county government sinecure (plus $100.000 and a sorry note from Supervisors Nelson, Nguyen and Bates). He’s even specified the jobs he wants (along with job descriptions): either as Capital Projects Oversight and Review Manager working in the County CEO’s office, or as Chief Compliance Officer for OC Public Works. I don’t know if these are existing positions, or if Zenger is trying to create customized positions for himself on the county payroll.
I’ve heard that Zenger has been blanketing the county with PRA requests, trying prove the existence of a conspiracy to fire him from his at-will position.
I was surprised recently to learn that Zenger lived in Anaheim, given that his political activity was focused Fullerton, where he lived for years and years. Zenger ran (and lost) for Fullerton City Council in the 1994 recall election, and proposed an additional layer of government for Fullerton property owners to wade through.
This turn of events is ironic. Zenger was a part of the Tony Bushala/Friends for Fullerton’s Future blog cabal, one of whose hallmarks was blasting local government staff and consultants whose client roster included public agencies (former Supervisor Chris Norby told me a few years ago that Zenger blogged under the nom-de-plume Fullerton Harpoon).. Now, Zenger is suing to grab either big pay-off or a secure guvmint job – either one courtesy of the taxpayers he purports to champion. Maybe he sees it as a success fee for the $2 million his lawyer claims Zenger has save county government.