Mayor Fires Leader of Troubled City Purchasing Department

Government

Mayor Fires Leader of Cursed City Purchasing Department

Last year, the city’s long-troubled Purchasing and Contracting Department was looking at a bright new future of increased efficiency and stable leadership. Now the department is back in flux.

Last year, the city’s long-troubled Purchasing and Contracting Department was looking at a bright new future of increased efficiency and stable leadership.

Now city leadership has ousted the department’s latest director, Dennis Gakunga. Kristina Peralta, a program manager tapped as interim leader, will become its fifth director in seven years as the city mounts yet another nationwide search to fill the lead role permanently.

Gakunga is the senior city staff member referenced in this investigative report released in late June by the city auditor that alleged abuse of the city’s leave policy.

“Specifically, we confirmed 50 days of absences without leave recorded in SAP for one salaried employee, and five days for a second salaried employee. The combined cash-equivalent value of the under-recorded annual leave hours is over $25,000,” the auditor’s report states.

Calls to Gakunga were not immediately returned.

The mayor’s office confirmed Peralta was taking over the department but wouldn’t elaborate.

“Because this is a personnel matter, the city will not be providing further comment,” wrote the mayor’s chief of communications, Matt Awbrey.

Last year, a consultant’s report about the city department concluded that staff was demoralized.

Also at the time, a mysterious “personnel matter” within the department led to a botched contract to overhaul all the city’s parking meters. (The city was forced to go through the city of Sacramento to purchase the new parking meters that now operate throughout the city center.)

In January, the city auditor, Eduardo Luna, issued a separate report that “found significant deficiencies in the manner in which the city oversees and monitors citywide goods and services contracts.”

Luna said he is continuing to investigate the department.

Former Mayor Jerry Sanders began reforms of the Purchasing and Contracting Department almost a decade ago when he first took over as the city’s first elected chief executive since the 1930s. Here’s how I described the constant turnover and trouble at the department last year:

Sanders cut 17 full-time jobs and closed two warehouses. He also announced that his team would begin actively monitoring all of the city’s 3,435 contracts at that time. That the city had no idea how many contracts it had out was a minor controversy in the press.

Sanders’ team imposed several other reforms on the department.

Everything was supposed to speed up and the mayor set new performance standards.

Then Sanders fired Lance Wade, who ran the department.

In 2008, Sanders hired Hildred Pepper to run the department. It did not go well. The Union-Tribune revealed that Pepper had been the subject of critical audits when he ran the same functions at Detroit Public Schools.

In 2011, a frustrated Sanders took street repair and capital projects contracting away from the department.

Later that year, Voice of San Diego revealed that the city was struggling to spend money from a $100 million bond it had issued to repair streets. City officials claimed at that time that an inefficient bureaucracy was making it hard to get contracts out the door. But now, they claimed to have fixed it.

Pepper resigned in 2011. No explanation was offered. Scott Reese took over the department temporarily.

Then Ed Plank, a well-regarded staffer who bounced around to different jobs after two decades at the city, became interim director. But he left in February 2013, shortly after then Mayor Bob Filner took office.

Filner hired Gakunga and after Filner left, the city pushed through a major reform to streamline tedious contracting review for small purchasing efforts. It would allow the staff to work on more important, major efforts.

Now the department is back in flux.

“Over the next 12 months, Kristina [Peralta] will be working with her Purchasing and Contracting Department staff to accomplish significant procedural and software improvements that will address previously identified deficiencies and improve overall contract management,” a memo from the city’s deputy chief operating officer reads.

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