(CNS) – A group of female county workers and activists called today on state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate why it took so long to arrest a Santa Ana city councilman who’s charged with sexually assaulting seven women while an executive in the county public works department.
Jennifer Muir of the Orange County Employees Association and Kim Salter of the state branch of the National Organization for Women criticized county officials for not doing more to reassure women working for the county that they are safe from sexual harassment.
“They suffer silently,” Muir said of the women on the county payroll. “They have no assurances … things have changed.”
Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva and Lupe Sanchez of Los Amigos of Orange County were also on hand at a news conference in front of the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana.
Carlos Bustamante, who was arrested about a month ago while on his way to a Santa Ana City Council meeting, resigned from his job as a county executive in the public works department last October when he was confronted with the sexual harassment allegations.
Orange County Chief Executive Officer Tom Mauk has also resigned and Public Works Department head Jess Carbajal was fired last month, after being on paid administrative leave since March 19.
In a letter sent today to Harris’ office, the OCEA and California NOW cited a letter from Alisa Drakodaidis, who’s on leave from her job as deputy chief executive officer of the Public Works Department, that alleges Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas prosecuted Bustamante in retaliation for the way Mauk helped push John S. Williams out of his job as Public Guardian.
Bustamante is accused of sexually assaulting the women with whom he worked while he was an executive with the Public Works Department. The alleged assaults happened between 2003 and last year, according to the prosecution.
Salter noted that the first anonymous letter alleging misconduct by Bustamante was sent to county officials in March 2011. “It took 16 months for something to happen,” Salter said. “Why would (more victims) step forward when nothing happened …? We need a thorough investigation by an outside entity who has nothing to do with Orange County.”
Rackauckas brushed off Drakodaidis’ claims, particularly that his prosecution was based on the political effort to nudge Williams out of office. “None of that ever entered my mind,” Rackauckas said. “I had nothing to do with any of that.”
Rackauckas did not find any credibility in Drakodaidis’ letter to county officials complaining about her demotion, alleging she was discriminated against for being a whistleblower. “Sometimes allegations have a kernel of truth. This doesn’t even have that,” Rackauckas said.
The county’s top prosecutor added he would not have a problem if Harris wanted to review the investigation of Bustamante. “But I would be shocked if she wanted to get involved. She’s got so much to do,” Rackauckas said.
Shum Preston, a spokesman for Harris, said, “We will review that letter when we receive it, but I cannot say more than that at this point.”
Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell praised the way Rackauckas has handled the case against Bustamante. “I think they’ve handled it in a very professional fashion,” Campbell said. “I think Tony’s doing a good job of it.”
If Harris wanted to get involved, Campbell would not object. “I don’t have a problem with it if others want it,” he said.
As for the women’s complaints that county officials have not taken a strong enough public stance against sexual harassment in the workplace, Campbell said county officials are reviewing their sexual harassment training now to see if it can be improved.
The supervisor said he also wonders why it took so long for Bustamante’s accusers to come forward with the complaints.
Rackauckas has said many of the alleged victims said they feared Bustamante, at the time a rising political star who bragged about his political connections. The prosecutor said the women felt it would be “career suicide” to accuse Bustamante of sexual misconduct.
Bustmante has pleaded not guilty to the sexual assault charges, and has so far resisted calls to step down from the Santa Ana City Council.
Muir said it was “sick” that Bustamante remains on the council. “What kind of message does that send to women,” Muir said.