WALNUT CREEK -- The city's public works director will make the ultimate decisions on the fate of four employees on paid administrative leave after an internal investigation is completed into employees' knowledge of alleged child sexual abuse at the Lesher Center.
Heather Ballenger was appointed this week by City Manager Ken Nordhoff at the request of a City Council subcommittee, whose members recently hired a consultant to oversee the results of the internal investigation. That consultant is Mike Oliver, a former city manager for San Leandro and Oakley.
He will examine the investigation and then make recommendations to Ballenger, who will decide the futures of Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison; city Arts Director Barry Gordon; his deputy, Kevin Safine; and city Human Resources Manager Sally Rice.
Giving Ballenger this responsibility was necessary because a city employee, and not the council or an outside consultant, must make employment decisions about city personnel, said Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson, a member of the subcommittee.
This responsibility would normally fall to the city manager, but the council stripped Nordhoff of his oversight of the situation and hired Oliver after learning Nordhoff knew of the Lesher situation earlier than he originally told council members.
The internal investigation focuses on allegations that the four administrators failed to alert Walnut Creek police after they fired an employee suspected of inappropriate sexual contact with teenage girls. The former employee, Jason Pedroza, has been charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors.
Employees found out about Pedroza after Danville police began investigating him, and though the employees are mandated reporters -- people required by law to tell police of any suspicions of child abuse -- the district attorney decided not to press charges.
The subcommittee, made up of Lawson and Councilman Bob Simmons, asked Nordhoff to choose an overseer with no ties to the investigation, Lawson said.
In an email to the entire city staff, Ballenger on Thursday wrote that she is committed to carrying out this role fairly, keeping in mind the city's responsibility to employees and the community.
"As you know, four employees are currently on administrative leave while this internal examination continues," she wrote. "I ask you to remember that placing an employee on administrative leave is not evidence of wrongdoing. It is a precautionary measure to ensure that the ongoing review is thorough and objective."
Ballenger also said the review of the city's handling of the Pedroza matter should be completed in the next two weeks That's the first timeline given for ending an investigation that started two months ago.
Nordhoff, Mayor Cindy Silva and Simmons did not respond to requests for comment.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.