Hot on the heels of the recent “Last, Best & Final” offer by the county to its public employees, a new website has been launched to expose what they call the corruption and cronyism of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The site can be accessed at TheRealOCSupervisors.com. The site is sponsored by the Orange County Employees Association and the Orange County Attorneys Association.
The site graphically illustrates the cronyism and corruption that is rampant in county government and calls for action by the public. Leading the website is a 30 second ad that has reportedly been running on local TV. If you haven’t seen it, you can access it at the end of this article.
The commercial outlines multimillion dollar pay-for-play contracts, rampant cronyism and criminal coverups.
These Orange County politicians have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to campaign contributors, including to a company convicted of fraud.
And they’ve allowed special interest lobbyists to write laws to benefit themselves instead of Orange County residents.
The Grand Jury has called out a culture of corruption in Orange County government, and now a FBI Task Force is investigating corruption in government as well.
NIck Berardino, general manager of OCEA has been playing hardball with county ever since the offer. During heated discussions on the last day, Berardino reportedly moved toward county negotiators to escort them out of the building. The county blew the issue out of proportion by claiming the feisty GM had assaulted negotiators. They reported the incident to Santa Ana Police who are conducting an investigation.
In a letter to Leslie Neebe, President of OCEA, county CEO Mike Giancola stated they had written statements of the incident from county negotiators saying that Berardino verbally and physically assaulted county staff.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson added his two cents saying that “multiple witnesses” told him Berardino charged a negotiator and bumped a sheriff’s official. Of course, attorney Nelson should remember the rule on hearsay evidence. Even more interesting is, if Berardino actually did assault anyone, why didn’t the bumped sheriff’s official make an arrest right then and there?
Well, said OCEA Spokesperson Jennifer Muir, that’s because no assault took place. As explained in a an email sent to The Liberal OC:
“Nick never bumped anyone in the room,” Muir wrote in an email Saturday. When contacted by phone, she did not give additional details. Berardino was responding to “bullying and intimidating” by county government leaders when things “got heated” and he told them to leave, Muir said. The county representatives declined to leave, and Berardino went to “escort” Barsook from the room, she added. “When [Nick] told them we have members who can’t afford to put gas in their cars,” Muir says that Barsook smirked, and Berardino told him to leave. “Nick reacted in a way anybody would react,” she said.
In a recent Voice of OC article, Muir stated her belief as to why the county would make outlandish charges:
“Orange County supervisors have a history of bullying and intimidating people who tell them things they don’t want to hear. The grand jury in Orange County said county government leaders have created an atmosphere of fear. That’s what was going on the other day,” Muir said. “Nick was simply standing up for the workers in rejecting the heavy-handed tactics and intimidation by the county government.” “Did it get heated? Absolutely,” she said. “But there was no assault.”
Giancola has said he will seek to have Berardino barred from future negotiations. We’re not sure how that would work but we seriously doubt it will fly with anyone not sitting on the 5th floor of the County Administration Building. More importantly, we’ve known Berardino for more than 15 years and have seen, firsthand, how he operates in a negotiation environment. While Nick has been known to use the occasional F-bomb to emphasize what could be construed as his dramatic approach to negotiations, he has never been assaultive.
On the other hand, the new website is pure Berardino. This is the style the OCEA boss believes in. By focusing on the corruption and unethical actions of the supervisors, he takes the heat off public employees who, over the past few years, have received little sympathy from the public mostly due to bad publicity by the local political machine.
Union Rejects County Offer
The doors on the Orange County Employees Association had barely closed at the end of Friday’s business day when the word went out by phone and email that members of the county’s largest public union had overwhelmingly turned down the Board of Supervisors’ “last, best and final offer”.
The rejection comes at the heels of the slim acceptance by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, who voted to approve a contract that forces deputies to pay their fair share of county retirement costs.
OCEA Spokesperson, Jennifer Muir, said that county employees saw the offer for what it was – an attempt to bully them into accepting a bad deal against threats that, if they didn’t accept, politicians on the Board of Supervisors would make it worse for them in the future.
The Board of Supervisors proposed these cuts at the same time as they accepted a pay raise for themselves—a raise that just showed up on their paychecks and was awarded retroactively to July.And it happens at the same time as they continue voting to approve multi-million dollar contracts to their campaign contributors.
Supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach, a career politician with an eye on Federal Office, both said the offer was warranted by the $73 million dollars in property tax disputed by the state last year. Moorlach stated, “We’re dealing with a situation where the state has made our budget gong forward very austere.
What was not lost on either side was the fact that county managers would receive a 1.25 percent raise after going through mediation following the county’s last, best and final offer to that group. Also receiving a raise this year would be the Board of Supervisors themselves, who got an automatic 1.4 percent raise as their pay is set to that of judges. Although it was Governor Jerry Brown who set that in motion, it is the county that will pay for their raises through the General Fund.
Moorlach quickly set about doing damage control by publicly announcing his effort to see if he could turn down the raise. However, it is not likely to erase the fact that, for years, he refused to give up his county pension, saying he would wait until the law was changed before he would give it up. At the time, Supervisors’ pensions were funded one hundred percent by the county.
Both Nelson and Moorlach, the only Supervisors to respond to the union’s rejection, neglected to say the $72 million dollar property tax dispute they blamed for the no-raise offer, was the direct result of the Board’s failure to mitigate the dispute despite legal counsel to the contrary.
From a Voice of OC article:
When the county officials financed the billion-dollar bankruptcy in 1995, state officials allowed them to send a portion of their vehicle license fees directly to bond holders. But in 2007, when the county refinanced its debt, the legislative authorization for the special license fees was not included.
Despite warnings that the authorization should be quickly reestablished, county legislative leaders, lobbyists and staff did not act. The intercept, as its known, was not addressed in any subsequent county legislative platform or by the county’s main lobbyist, Platinum Advisors.
The general consensus at OCEA is, the real problem is the sour relationship the Republican Party keeps with the state legislature. Indeed, more than one Orange County Republican legislator has suffered the wrath of an unkind Democratic majority. Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a former Assemblyman, was forced into an office in the Capitol that is so small it is often referred to as “the doghouse”.
OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, was succinct in a written statement to union members. Saying corruption investigations and “pay-to-play tactics” caused the Board of Supervisors to target county workers who stood up to them and exposed corrupt practices. “It’s just like last year, when the Grand Jury issued reports about the “culture of corruption” in Orange County Government. The Board responded, he said, by attempting to cut their pay.
In his message, Berardino called for a cleanup of the corrupt practices and said that union members will stand with the Grand Jury and law enforcement agencies in cleaning up the county.
Berardino is also the subject of an assault investigation by the Santa Ana Police Department. County negotiating officials allege Berardino threatened and pushed a negotiator at the last bargaining session when the County’s ultimatum was delivered. Santa Ana Police are not forthcoming with information. OCEA says that no assault occurred and the County is grandstanding to bolster its position.
The next step for union members, who have not seen a raise in more than seven years, is mediation. If mediation does not result in a satisfactory agreement, arbitration will follow. A final resolution could be as much as a year off.
I hope everyone enjoyed National Night Out at the District in Tustin. The annual event is put on by public safety around the country. Many cities in The Real OC, including Tustin, enjoyed a different view of the police and fire departments that serve our community. We are fortunate to have one of the finest of each to protect and serve.
Since there were no official meetings at the city level this week, we thought we would discuss an issue of pressing concern at the county level, where it is getting to be a regular thing that the Orange County Board of Supervisors have trouble admitting fault.
The Republic machine that runs most of Orange County just doesn’t seem to get it. It seems every time local government gets into trouble, they don’t want to admit they had any part in it. From the multitude of sexual harassment suits to the CalOptima debacle, the Orange County Supervisors always seem to find a way to blame others for their stupidity. When Carlos Bustamante was finally outed for his, shall we say, interesting management techniques, the public discovered what the rank-and-file employees of Orange County government knew all along. Yet, the OC Supervisors played the blame game and wound up using Tom Mauck as cannon fodder.
The Board of Supervisors continued to blame others for their poor oversight when the Grand Jury issued a couple of reports questioning their ethics and management of CalOptima, even when faced with the facts. John Moorlach, who refuses to lead by example, complained when the Grand Jury did its job. And, Todd Spitzer, in a holding pattern for Tony Rackauckus’ job (and, consequently, the Jury’s potential boss), was indignant that anyone, let alone the Grand Jury, could find fault with the BoS.
Through all of the bad publicity the Board of Supervisors has undergone lately, one important issue seems to have fallen out of the public’s eye. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal except it is worth $76.5 million dollars. That’s the amount of money the state will withhold from Orange County in property tax unless they can come to some sort of agreement.
And, as usual, the Board of Supervisors wants to lay the blame on someone else. The only trouble is, they couldn’t. So, they went into denial mode.
Back in May, the Voice of Orange County outlined the problems the county ran into when they refinanced bankruptcy debt. At the time, Orange County still received vehicle license fee money from the state to help with the remaining debt. In 2005, however, supervisors sought a reduction in costs and, in so doing, they inadvertently eliminated their access to the VLF. Actually, that’s not quite true. Many sources claim the county was aware of the faux pas but chose to ignore it, hoping no one else would notice.
That worked until this year when the folks working on Governor Brown’s budget caught up with the money and took it back. That resulted in a court case that everyone except the Supervisors knew the county would lose.
After ignoring the problem and keeping the money, then losing in court, the Board of Supervisors, now faced with the facts, is finally ready to make a deal with the state. Only trouble is, the state may not be willing to deal. And, of course, the supes have said that, if no agreement can be reached, others will pay for their mistake.
“Bridging the $76.5 million reduction would require a combination of labor reduction, revenue assumptions and non-labor cuts (e.g., services & supplies, equipment, capital projects, etc.),” reads a memo being distributed by county Chief Financial Officer Frank Kim.
County labor leaders have already sent out mass notices warning workers about potential cuts and where the pain might be felt.
During a meeting with the OCEA Bargaining Team, Kim offered three scenarios to OCEA members. One was that the County would lose the $76.5 million in VLF. The second scenario would have them lose the VLF but convert a special property tax set aside that Senator Lou Correa secured in 2009, into an ongoing replacement fund. The third scenario was just as dire: The county keeps the VLF but loses the property tax set aside.
Of course Kim, who also appears to be in denial, didn’t mention the likelihood of the state thumbing their nose at the county and keeping everything.
In a missive to employees, Berardino laid out the BoS strategy to lay the responsibility of getting out of the mess by taking it out on labor.
OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, is not taking it lying down. Berardino, who appears to be the only one who saw the potential for failure during this episode of the BoS drama, told the Supervisors that it would be unfair to continue to place the burden of resolution on the backs of the rank-and-file employees of the county.
The County predicts they could bridge the revenue loss with labor reductions, revenue assumptions and other non-labor cuts, however any specific and direct impacts are not currently known. We told the County again, as we’ve said many times before, working families did not create the bankruptcy and the fallout from the bankruptcy must not fall on the backs of working men and women!!
Berardino further points out that the blame lies squarely with the Board of Supervisors who, even though they were aware of the cuts, directed then Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom (who has since left for cooler skies to the north) to act as if nothing had happened. Talk about denial.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel. The $50 million dollar deal Senator Correa cut for Orange County in 2009 has now become a key bargaining chip in the game.
“What we thought should have been a step toward a bit of gravy is now just a struggle to get back to where we were,” Correa said. “Without that $50 million, we’d be nowhere. There would be nothing to negotiate.”
The deal Correa is attempting to work out, however, will only return the county to the original status quo and will still leave the county with budget cuts to deal with, some permanently. And, while the county said they are not looking at layoffs to bridge the funding gap, Nick Berardino is not likely to take them at their word.
Neither are Department Heads, some of whom are scrambling to meet with their employees to reassure them -or warn them- of budget issues. Most departments have cut to the bone as it is and, while employees have been able to maintain services, that is not likely to last should layoff occur.
So, while the Board of Supervisors fiddle, it is the public that could get burned if a deal can’t be reached. Senator Correa, who has come to the aid of the county many times before, describes the negotiations with the state as a “painful process”. We agree. Good luck, Lou.