By Jim E. Winburn
The Pasadena Unified School District has placed Facilities Chief David Azcarraga on administrative leave pending an investigation into billing practices by contractors for the Measure TT capital improvement program.
According to PUSD spokesman Adam Wolfson, the district’s chief of facilities was put on leave Wednesday over alleged improper billing practices and that Chief Finance Officer John Pappalardo will run the facilities department until an investigation is complete.
In the meantime, Pappalardo will manage the $350-million Measure TT program, which was approved by voters in 2008.
In addition to Azcarraga being placed on leave, the district has suspended Robin Brown’s contract, a bond manager who was brought aboard to provide fiscal oversight to the capital improvement program.
Brown signed a contract with the PUSD in January 2012, making him eligible to earn up to $312,000, which is $80,000 more than PUSD Superintendent Jon Gundry.
Wolfson said that four other contracts related to Measure TT were terminated, including consultant Peter Condis, project assistant Arturo Arce, and the companies LCC3 and Seville Group.
Conducting the independent internal investigation is the Glendora-based Vicenti, Lloyd & Stutzman LLP, a financial advising firm that provides forensic accounting, auditing and consulting services.
“Obviously we want to have an outside investigation,” said Wolfson. “We want to have that certainty – for a lack of a better term.”
Wolfson said that because this is a personnel issue, it is important for the investigation process to be completed before speaking further on the allegations.
Wolfson reminded this reporter of a 2000 investigation where a former police chief of the district was placed on leave because of allegations that he was spying on undressing female employees with a concealed video camera.
“The district at the time laid out very clearly what the allegations were, and then a few months later he was exonerated,” he said.
However, the former police chief, Jarado L. Blue, filed a defamation suit based on statements district officials had made to the Los Angeles Times and the Pasadena Star-News, eventually being awarded $2.5 million by a jury in 2004.
“So given our financial situation, $2.5 million can frankly be spent on a lot better things than paying out a lawsuit,” said Wolfson. “Once the investigation is completed, we want to be as transparent as possible. But there is a process to this that we certainly want to follow first and foremost.”
Officials said the decision to place Azcarraga on administrative leave, and to either suspend or terminate the contracts, was made during a school board closed session on Tuesday, Dec. 4.