City employee returns from administrative leave

Costa Mesa has reinstated one of two employees put on paid leave last summer while the city investigated possible fiscal improprieties related to the city's 60th anniversary celebration.

Christine Cordon, a special events coordinator and assistant recreation supervisor, is back on the job.

The investigation isn't quite complete, but Cordon returned to work last week, according to Assistant City CEO Rick Francis.

"I think that her coming back is a positive sign," Francis said. "And we're progressing through finalizing the entire investigation."

Cordon told the Daily Pilot that she returned to City Hall on Dec. 30 but declined to give more specifics.

Because it's a personnel matter, Francis declined to say whether Cordon's return meant she is cleared of any wrongdoing.

However, he added, "I think people will kind of read into [her return] what they will."

The senior employee responsible for planning the event, Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce, is still removed from his duties. Francis declined to say if or when Joyce might return to work.

Because of concerns that city policies weren't followed during planning for the three-day birthday bash in June, city officials began an investigation. That included putting Cordon and Joyce on paid administrative leave starting in August.

According to the city, Joyce and Cordon were "principally responsible" for the 60th anniversary celebration. They began working with a citizens committee in December 2012 to put together the three-day music festival, food-tasting event and street fair.

A Daily Pilot investigation last month found that the party ran substantially over its $315,000 budget, costing almost $400,000.

The city pledged to contribute $125,000 toward the costs in early 2013. The rest was supposed to come from sponsorships, revenue from concert tickets and other sales, and donations.

Preliminary numbers show that Costa Mesa paid out about $79,000 more than expected, according to city spokesman Bill Lobdell.

Most of the budget — $217,000 — went to producing the event's music festival. About $127,000 of that went to a single consultant who has since been accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of running a Ponzi scheme unrelated to the 60th party.

The city has not released ticket sales numbers for the music festival but said attendance at the free street fair was lower than initially expected.

In an April presentation to the City Council, Joyce said he expected 20,000 to 30,000 people, but according to a city estimate in July, the event drew only 16,000.

The city has denied public records requests while it investigates the event's finances.

The audit is expected to be complete by Jan. 15.

—Daily Pilot staff writer Bradley Zint also contributed to this report.

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