A previously unreleased report shows that the City of Scottsdale disciplined a high-ranking public works employee in late 2018 following an investigation into ethical violations and conflict of interest.
The allegations against Streets Operations Director Randy Ghezzi included an assertion that he was working part-time at an area Lowe’s and used his position at the city to get his coworkers there hired by Scottsdale.
He also was alleged to have given preferential treatment to city contractors with whom he had a friendly relationship and instituted cost-saving policies that put employee health at risk.
Ghezzi did not respond to a Scottsdale Progress request for comment.
The city hired law firm Cronin Law Group to conduct an investigation. A report on that investigation – obtained by the Progress under the state open records law – shows that the firm found evidence to sustain two of the allegations.
The city punished Ghezzi by reducing his annual salary by one percent to $126,027 and putting him on a 40-hour unpaid suspension. Ghezzi is also no longer allowed to have outside employment and is prohibited from attending out-of-state conferences or training for the next 12 months.
The city disciplined Ghezzi in December 2018 after the investigation found that he had received improper gifts in excess of $25 during a conference in Las Vegas and failed to disclose those gifts to the City Clerk’s office in violation of city ordinance.
In January 2018, Ghezzi and other City of Scottsdale employees attended a dinner at VooDoo Steakhouse paid for by VSS International while in Las Vegas for a pavement conference, according to the investigation.
According to the investigator’s report, “Ghezzi claims he doesn’t know who paid for the dinner … Ghezzi admits he didn’t pay for his dinner.”
VSS International is an asphalt paving company that was awarded a contract from the City of Scottsdale shortly after Ghezzi first started working for the city in 2014.
The investigator’s report notes that “it is no secret” that Ghezzi had previously worked with VSS International when he was employed by local governments in Idaho prior to coming to Scottsdale. The report does not conclude there was any impropriety in the award of the contract in 2014.
The investigation did find that Ghezzi had maintained part-time employment at a Scottsdale Lowe’s home improvement store without notifying or receiving approval from his supervisor – a violation of city regulations and an ordinance.
The report states that Ghezzi knowingly violated the rules regarding outside employment.
In a written statement to the Progress, the city said it took all allegations seriously and the investigation was thorough and independent.
“That investigation concluded that allegations about improperly awarding contracts, improperly hiring staff and improperly influencing the work of a contracted consultant were not true,” the statement read.
“Two allegations were sustained,” it continued. “Mr. Ghezzi did accept a meal from a contractor while at a conference and did not disclose it to the city. He also took a part-time job without first receiving permission for outside employment by the city. Both of these are violations of city policy, and Mr. Ghezzi was disciplined appropriately as a result.”
The investigation report stops short of saying Ghezzi’s employment at Lowe’s conflicted with his work at the city, though it highlights issues his boss, Scottsdale Public Works Executive Director Dan Worth, had with his failure to disclose that information.
The report says, “Ghezzi never disclosed to Worth that he knew (name redacted) from working at Lowes. Worth indicated that he would have wanted to know this prior to (name redacted) being hired.”
“Furthermore, (name redacted) was not the first employee to be hired by Scottsdale. Although, Ghezzi ultimately quit his part time position with Lowes, he should have disclosed his part time employment especially since Lowes’ employees were applying for and being interviewed for positions in his department.”
An anonymous letter from concerned staff – which triggered the investigation – alleged that Ghezzi facilitated the hiring of Lowe’s employees who were his superiors there and then they would work under him at the city – including current Scottsdale ITS Signals Manager Chris Myers.
The letter also alleged that Scottsdale ITS Analyst Griffith Hepner, who also works at Lowe’s on the side, helped get Ghezzi the job at the store and was his superior there.
The investigation report specifies that Hepner followed the city’s protocol in receiving approval for outside employment. It did not find that Ghezzi’s employment with Lowe’s violated city ordinances or regulations.
The report stated that Ghezzi, who worked in the plumbing department, did not work under Hepner or other employees who worked at the city during his time at Lowe’s.
The report also did not sustain an allegation that Ghezzi modified the minimum qualifications for a city management position in order to hire Myers, a coworker at Lowe’s.
However, evidence included in the report shows that Ghezzi did change the qualifications in a way that gave Myers a chance of getting the job by removing certain technical certification requirements Myers lacked.
Ghezzi received approval from the city’s Human Resources Department to modify the job description after stating that he desired a candidate with good managerial skills and that the licensing requirement was “unnecessary and too restrictive,” according to the report.
Myers had previous managerial experience with Lowe’s, the report says.
Seven candidates qualified under the new criteria and Ghezzi interviewed two – including Myers.
The anonymous letter also alleged that Ghezzi made operational changes in the department that put worker safety at risk and modified an outside study of the city’s pavement quality to give the city a better ranking – both of which were not supported by the investigation.
The anonymous letter complained that Ghezzi required city street sweepers in the northern part of the city to dump at the city’s transfer station on Via Linda and that this takes more time than going to nearby landfills.
It claimed this exposes workers to hazardous waste as they have to exit their trucks to remove all trash and dirt from the vehicle.
“By doing this, the sweepers are out on the road longer and there is cost savings since there isn’t a separate charge at the landfill,” investigators concluded. “There was no evidence to support the claim there is a safety issue by having the sweepers dump at the transfer station.”
The complaints are not the first to be leveled against Ghezzi in his career, according to media reports.
Ghezzi was put on administrative leave for three months by San Luis Obispo County in California in 2009 before resigning from the county, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
The newspaper said the county did not give a reason for putting Ghezzi on leave.
In 2014, the City of Pocatello in Idaho became embroiled in controversy after it was discovered that its road crews conducted paving projects in six neighboring municipalities “without approval by the City Council or without signed agreements to reimburse Pocatello over a 3-year period beginning in 2011,” according to the Idaho State Journal.
Ghezzi oversaw the responsible department at the time, according to KIFI Local News 8 in Idaho.
According to an audit conducted at the city’s behest by Deaton Company, Ghezzi engaged in verbal commitments with his counterparts in the cities of Chubbuck, American Falls and McCammon to complete roadwork for no charge without the Pocatello City Council’s approval.
Ghezzi also provided training for employees in neighboring communities with the approval of Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad but no approval from the City Council, according to the audit.
All in all, the work for outside communities cost Pocatello taxpayers $15,773 from 2011 to 2014.
Ghezzi left his job with Pocatello in July 2014 to take a job with Scottsdale around the time the news of the scandal broke, according to the Idaho State Journal.
Ghezzi first began working for Scottsdale in 2014, and then left in 2016 to take a job out of state, returning to Scottsdale in 2017.
In 2014, he told the Journal that he had been concerned about sending crews to other towns but “you do what you’re told.”
The question of who was doing the telling was never answered, despite an internal city audit and an investigation by the Idaho Attorney General.
The City of Scottsdale was aware of the issues in Pocatello when Ghezzi was hired.
“As to allegations leveled at Mr. Ghezzi related to his work in California and Idaho, the city was aware of these,” according to a city statement. “Prior to hiring him, we investigated, and found that the allegations were not supported by the facts. Mr. Ghezzi left those previous jobs in good standing, with positive recommendations and solid job references.”
The City of Scottsdale’s investigation may not have had access to pertinent information, though, as the Deaton audit was not available until Dec. 22, 2014, several months after Ghezzi was hired, and the Attorney General’s report was not completed until 2016.