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Audit confirms whistleblower's suit

The City Council will consider settling a whistleblower lawsuit on Wednesday, less than two weeks after a city audit confirmed the thrust of the accusations made by the employee who was fired.

The City Attorney's Office has recommended paying Lisa Vasquez, the former director of the Public Safety Systems Revitalization Program, $87,500 to settle a lawsuit she filed after being fired in June 2011. In her suit, Vasquez claims she was fired for complaining about mismanagement and unauthorized spending related to the projects she was hired to oversee.

Although the city denies the allegations in an analysis written by the City Attorneys Office, it recommends paying the settlement because the city could lose the case it goes to trial.

“The claim has been investigated by Risk Management Services. The investigation indicates there is a risk the City may be found liable. Therefore, in order to avoid the risk of an adverse jury award, we feel it is prudent to compromise the claim at this time,” reads the ordinance to be considered by the council.

The agency Vasquez headed is overseeing the replacement of the emergency communication systems that serve regional police, fire and ambulance providers. She was fired by Commissioner Randy Leonard. At the time, Leonard blamed personality clashes between Vasquez and others working on the project for her dismissal.

But an audit released on April 4 found serious problems with the projects, and says mismanagement is largely to blame.

“Despite repeated recommendations from outside quality assurance specialists and the lessons learned from other major City programs, the City was unable to effectively oversee this significant, but expensive undertaking," City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade said in a prepared statement.

According to the audit, the work is $9 million over budget and three years late. Costs were projected at $80 million last July, up from the original $71 million budget. The project is now expected to be completed in December 2015 instead of late 2012, as originally estimated.

An independent quality assurance consultant had warned about rising costs as early as 2008 but was ignored, according to the audit, which suggests the spending is still not completely under control.

"If project costs continue to increase, the city must find additional resources, reduce the scopes of projects or take other actions," the audit says.