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L.A. County hires outside law firm to investigate probation chief

Los Angeles County officials have hired an outside law firm to investigate allegations of an inappropriate romantic relationship between Probation Chief Jerry Powers and a woman he hired to be the department's top budget and personnel official, according to a high-ranking Board of Supervisors aide familiar with the probe.

Additionally, county officials are looking into allegations that Powers bypassed the usual background checks to hire his alleged mistress, according to county managers with knowledge of the inquiry.

Powers has not responded to requests for comment from The Times.

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Powers, 52, hired Kym Renner, 42, in December 2013 to become one of the top leaders of the nation's largest probation department, which has 6,500 staffers and an $820-million budget. As administrative deputy, Renner earns $160,000.

In recent months, Renner's role as chief budget officer has come under scrutiny by county auditors who faulted the department's handling of agency funds. In one report, auditors found that the department failed to seek state reimbursement for anti-recidivism programs, costing the county $10 million from its general fund.

Auditors recommended in July that the county seek reimbursement from state officials. Renner told The Times last month that she was still looking into the matter and "no action has been taken" by her office to obtain the funds. Renner has not returned repeated requests for comment in recent weeks. Previously, Renner had denied a romantic relationship with Powers.

The Times obtained copies of purported receipts showing his name and credit card information for flowers and accompanying notes professing his love for Renner before and after her hiring, as well as a trip to Mexico with her last year.

In his divorce case, Powers' wife sought reimbursement for "gifts made by him to his girlfriend" purchased with the couple's community property. The documents do not identify who the girlfriend is. Credit card numbers filed as evidence in the case match the credit card numbers on the receipts for flowers and the trip to Mexico.

Powers told The Times in March that he had no romantic involvement with Renner, but he declined to comment publicly on the allegations when The Times reported in October that the Board of Supervisors called him to a closed-door meeting to discuss the nature of his relationship with her.

"I do not believe the public is entitled to know the details of my personal life," he said in a letter to his staff a day after The Times story, adding that Renner's hiring was "based entirely on her qualifications and my belief in her ability."

Under county rules, personal relationships between supervisors and subordinates can create conflicts of interest and lead to disciplinary action. According to county records, Powers approved Renner's expense reports, and she approved his.

Powers' staff-wide letter said her hiring had been overseen by the county's Human Resources Department and that those officials had "reviewed and conducted" her interview.

"Ms. Renner went through every step required to be considered for her position, with every 'i' dotted and every 't' crossed," he said.

The head of the county's Human Resources Department, Lisa Garrett, declined through a spokesman to comment on Powers' comments about Renner's hiring process.

In a deposition earlier this year for a case involving an employee with a grievance, Renner testified she never went to the county's human resources department during her hiring, and she said she had not been interviewed by anyone in the probation human resources office. When asked who interviewed her for the job, she mentioned only "Chief Powers."

Earlier this year, the auditor controller received complaints that Renner did not undergo the usual background checks for top executives, routinely involving detailed interviews with references and extensive investigation of a candidate's career.

Powers, who earns more than $378,000 in salary and benefits, was hired in 2011 with a mandate to clean up hiring practices.

The agency had been faulted by federal authorities for misuse of force against juvenile detainees and for poor internal controls on employee conduct.

Powers implemented new policies requiring staffers to be honest in their dealings internally and with the public, and he tightened nepotism rules.

Recently, he has retreated from public view. He has not scheduled a public meeting in more than a month since allegations of an improper relationship with Renner emerged, according to the county's response to a public records request.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

Times staff writer Paige St. John and researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on December 11, 2015, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Outside law firm will look at official - L.A. County seeks probe into allegations of a relationship between probation chief and budget aide." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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