WALNUT CREEK -- To ensure transparency and address a lack of trust in its city manager felt by at least two council members, Walnut Creek is hiring an outside consultant to deal with city staffers who failed to report what they knew about allegations of child sex abuse by an employee of the Lesher Center for the Arts.
The consultant will assume City Manager Ken Nordhoff's responsibilities in connection with an internal investigation to evaluate why administrators failed to alert police when they fired an employee suspected of inappropriate sexual contact with teen girls at the theater.
Some council members believe that Nordhoff, who launched the investigation, did not disclose to the council that he also had heard about the sex abuse allegations early on.
"Ken (Nordhoff) has acted in an unethical fashion and all employees have not been treated equally during the investigation process," said Councilman Justin Wedel.
The consultant, with no ties to Walnut Creek, will decide whether the four employees now on leave and others should be disciplined, said Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson. The consultant, who may cost the city up to $50,000 in addition to the $100,000 already spent on the investigation, also will recommend whether Nordhoff should be reprimanded.
"It is a great disappointment to me personally that this ... is necessary because the city today finds itself in a situation that was completely avoidable," Lawson said in a statement. "A foundation of trust and confidence in local government is being candid about the facts -- as an elected official I expect such candor from my colleagues and our employees, and the public deserves nothing less."
While not naming Nordhoff, Mayor Cindy Silva said the city's investigation revealed "persons in higher positions had some knowledge of the issue earlier then initially thought," prompting the need for an outside consultant.
"I have ultimate confidence in an objective, thorough investigation," Silva said. "We will be able to move forward and make the right decisions for the community based on a truly independent investigation."
The Lesher Center employee, Jason Pedroza, 27, was charged in February with two felonies -- using a minor for a sex act and contacting a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd and lascivious behavior -- as well as misdemeanor sexual battery and child molestation. His two alleged victims are from Danville and Pleasant Hill.
Pedroza was fired from the Lesher Center in November because of allegations of inappropriate contact with minors.
During the criminal investigation, police discovered that at least four managers knew something of Pedroza's interaction with children but did not report it to Walnut Creek police. The District Attorney's Office decided not to press charges against those city employees for failing to report abuse to Walnut Creek police because they believed Danville law enforcement was already investigating.
Nevertheless, they are considered mandated reporters under state law and should have alerted police. Nordhoff in March placed the four -- arts director Barry Gordon, his deputy Kevin Safine, Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison and city Human Resource Manager Sally Rice -- on paid administrative leave. All the while Nordhoff failed to acknowledge that he, too, knew something of the Pedroza situation earlier than he led the City Council to believe.
Because the internal investigation is ongoing and to "honor the process," Nordhoff said Thursday he would not comment further. But he confirmed he remains the city manager responsible for all his regular duties apart from the Lesher Center investigation.
Councilman Bob Simmons, who along with Lawson is trying to find an independent consultant, said he wants the process to be finished before commenting.
Others are outraged and speaking out.
The employees on leave are angry, arguing that either they should be allowed to return to work or Nordhoff should be place on leave, according to Gordon's attorney, Dirk L. Manoukian.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.