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The Feds Take A Turn At County Slapdown

blazing-saddles-355Hot on the heels of a scathing grand jury report and the announcement of an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission, the FBI announced Wednesday, they have created a task force to investigate corruption here in Orange County. The earlier probe stems from management issues with CalOptima, the county’s low income health system for the poor.

Earlier this year, the Grand Jury issued two reports highly critical of the Board of Supervisor’s mismanagement of the CalOptima system. Supervisor Janet Nguyen, along with others, has been accused of conflict of interest and ethical breaches.

On June 18th, Supervisors lashed out at the Grand Jury, saying it was not their job to publicly embarrass the county. Supervisor John Moorlach, in one of his typical misconceptions, stated, “Your here to help us, not embarrass us nationally.” Todd Spitzer, who will eventually run for district attorney, went as far to say that their is no corruption in Orange County. The Board then moved to cut the grand jury stipend in apparent retaliation.

As it turns out, the FBI formed the task force in April, about the same time as the FPPC announced its own investigation. The FBI, which has a permanent anti-corruption unit, said they typically form a task force to focus on specific issues. According to the Voice of OC report, the task force consists of agents from the FBI, the IRS and other agencies, bringing in experts in all fields. In other words, they form a task force when a small, boutique investigatory unit just won’t do.

This is not the first time the county has undergone investigation by the Feds. The FBI was involved in investigations during the 1994 bankruptcy as well as the more recent witness tampering charges that brought down former OC Sheriff Mike Carona, who is serving a 6 year sentence in Colorado. That investigation revealed widespread corruption in the upper ranks of the sheriffs department.

The formation of the task force highlights the ethical woes of the county. And, although it may seem the task force is pointed at the Board of Supervisors, other elected and former officials of cities and special districts would do well to watch themselves. The FBI has a tendency to cast a wide net when it is looking for information. Typically, during an investigation of this type, other deeds of mismanagement on the peripheral of the investigation are brought into the light and reviewed.

Coming to mind are the charges brought by the Grand Jury last year against our own Jerry Amante, accusing him and another councilman from Laguna of misusing their official positions with their cities to interfere with Brandman University officials. Although the city of Tustin made an official response to the report, as required by law, they never actually denied the charges. Rather, they stated the Grand Jury got it all wrong and, even if there was a misuse of power, the city could hardly be held accountable for what two renegade councilmen did on their own time.

The rhetoric got so bad, self-appointed and well-respected watchdog, Shirley Grindle actually fired off a letter to the Register saying the two officials owed Smoller of Brandmand University a “huge apology for their unethical behavior.” She said they should then resign in disgrace.

So, while the conservative Republicans of this town continue to be incensed at the thought of their dirty laundry coming to light, it looks like the FBI has gladly set up shop in their back yard to eke out corruption. While I expect much of the work to be done in secrecy, one can expect an investigation of this size will bring out a wide variety of players in county politics. Don’t be surprised to find the fickle finger of fate pointed at a variety of folks, both public and private. Coming to mind are those behind the well funded smear campaigns against Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram that brought in hidden money from local contractors we suspect do business with the city.

Denial is one thing. But, our city fathers may have to prove it this time. And no amount of ranting on the dais will keep the FBI from their task.

I Am Running For Governor….No, Wait……I Mean Auditor-Controller…..No, Wait….I Mean Assemblyman. Yeah, That’s It, Assemblyman

Courtesy of The Liberal OC

Courtesy of The Liberal OC

Gosh, I remember when County Supervisor, John Moorlach, was first elected office. One of the things I remember most was his admonition that he had no interest in running for higher office. In fact, he was adamant that he was only taking the job of supervisor because he felt the need to right the wrongs of the previous supervisors, particularly in regard to pension reform. Never mind the fact that he, himself, took the best pension available and is one of a handful of executives in the county that does not pay into his own pension. He not only refuses to apologize for that fact, he revels in it, at one time saying he would change his pension when everyone else changed theirs.That’s real leadership for you.

Moorlach is best known for predicting the infamous 1994 county bankruptcy caused by Robert Citron’s blackbook investments of county funds. To be clear, John didn’t (or couldn’t) do anything about it – he just predicted it would happen. Well, leave it to an accountant to rain on the county’s parade. In the aftermath, he really did nothing more than say, “I told ya so”. Thing is, as we have said before, it is questionable in many expert opinions as to whether the bankruptcy would have occurred at all if Moorlach hadn’t delivered his sky-is-falling message to the public, forcing the OC BoS into action.

But, I digress.

A few weeks ago, I was surfing the web and came across a Voice of OC video article about John Moorlach, saying he was “exploring” a run for Governor. I nearly fell out of my seat, laughing. Nonetheless, I hit the switch to listen to the video. I was greeted with VOC’s editor-in-chief Norberto Santana who interviewed Moorlach for PCS SoCal. “You’re going to have Jerry Brown who was brought to the table by the public employee unions or someone who’s representing the taxpayers, so there’s a very clear delineation…”, according to Moorlach.

Wow. that was pretty straightforward and typical of Moorlach, who sees himself as a champion of the (ultra-conservative) taxpayer. Santana pointed out one of his biggest problems, however. As we said, Moorlach enjoys the most lavish pension available to public employees and has refused to give it up at every opportunity. Santana also pointed out that Moorlach has not been the best at fundraising and that any Republican running against Jerry Brown would have an uphill battle. To my own way of thinking, Moorlach running for governor would all but seal a second term for Brown.

Then, all of a sudden, I was perusing the Orange County Register a few days later and came across another article titled, “Moorlach may run for county auditor”. That isn’t to far from John’s roots and I found the prospect interesting. For all the criticism I have had over the egotistical Moorlach, I have to admit he is a pretty good manager. That said, He would probably be a good fit for the position and he helped along his own cause by voting to appoint Jan Grimes as the new Auditor-Controller to fill David Sundstrom’s unexpired term. The fact that she told the board she was not interested in running for the post at the end of the current term probably helped John make up his mind. In any case, the Auditor-Controller is one of those elected positions that no one really wants. That would make it easy for Moorlach to slide into the position without too much fundraising effort. Moorlach was nice enough to say that, if she did run, he might not want to get in the way of that. We’ll see.

So, John was set. He would run for auditor…or, governor….or….assmeblyman.

Yes, in another turn, the information began running rampant of a swap of seats between Assemblyman Alan Mansoor, who cut his political teeth on the Costa Mesa City Council, and our inimitable hero. It started with OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley breaking the story on Mansoor returning to the Real OC for a deathmatch between him and the carpet bagging Michelle Steel for John’s seat. Out of the box, Mansoor is the decided winner. In another weird twist, Moorlach said that, should Mansoor decide to return to the OC, he would be interested in his job in the Capitol. Well, it ain’t the governorship but…

the Daily Pilot, provides a new twist to my potential journey.  Allan Mansoor has practically grown up in the Second District.  He has served on the Costa Mesa City Council, which means he is familiar with the Board-type form of governance, and is familiar with negotiating with collective bargaining units.  He’s also a former Orange County employee, so he is very familiar with the County and its functions and structure.  As a sitting Assemblyman, he will make a formidable candidate to be my replacement.  However, he can only run for one office next June.  If he runs for Supervisor, that leaves his Assembly seat open and provides me with another option to consider as I near the conclusion of my listening tour.

So, now we have three scenarios for Moorlach with no clear direction. One thing is clear: what was once a career public employee has now clearly become the perennial career politician. Timing in politics is everything and the timing is right for Moorlach to pick and choose his next direction. One thing for sure, his demonstrated lack of leadership as a member of the board of supervisors won’t slow him down but his failure to lead just may catch up to him in any future job. Also, in all of this there has been a distinct lack of discussion from the political powerbrokers in Orange County. That said, I wouldn’t hold my breath to see governor in the future of Mr. Moorlach.

Moorlach Strikes a Blow at Free Speech

censorship shut your faceAs reported in the Orange County Register, The Orange County Board of Supervisors dealt another blow to free speech at county meetings.

A few weeks ago, John Moorlach initiated a proposal to limit the amount of time a member of the public may speak during an open session of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. It was narrowly defeated 3-2 with Bill Campbell among those who chose to preserve 1st Amendment rights rather than punish the general public for the sake of a sole gadfly.

Michael Klubnikin, who has legal and personal issues with the Superior Court and the Public Guardian, has taken a somewhat creative approach over the past few months to harangue the Gang of Five. Rather than prohibit him from speaking on issues because they either have been brought up before or because they do not fall under the purview of the Board, Moorlach chose to paint a large swath by attacking free speech in general and limiting all speakers to three minutes per item and a total of three items per meeting. The defeating vote looked like that was the end of it until a subsequent meeting, where Klubinikin spent a more than an hour, three minutes at a time, to harass the board.

After that meeting, Campbell changed his mind and told Moorlach that he would be inclined to vote with him in abrogating free speech at board of supervisors meetings. On Tuesday, another vote was taken and the rule change, with some modification to make the limit a 9 minute aggregate,  passed 4-1 with Supervisor Janet Nguyen the sole dissent.

ACLU attorneys said the decision coming from a body that is supposed to serve the people was dissappointing. And, although Terry Francke, a free speech advocate and attorney said the decision appeared to “comport” with the Brown Act, he did not sound too happy about the decision.

Nguyen’s dissent is unsurprising. As a Vietnamese-American, she understands the chilling effect supressing free speech can have in a democracy. What is surprsing is Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a Republican and near-libertarian, voted with the majority. Given his stated views on the limitation of government and the 2nd Amendment rights of people to bear arms, Nelson, along with Nguyen, should have taken the lead in opposing this measure. His opinion to the contrary would probably have swayed Campbell who has had trouble, throughout his stewardship on the board, making decisions on his own when it comes to issues such as this. And, for once, we agree with Darrell Nolta, a frequent speaker and critic of the OC Board of Supervisors when he asked why Moorlach needed such a draconian approach of suppressing the free speech of everyone to rein in one voice.

So why the limits? Granted, few people want to hear one person continuously drone on about their personal problems every few minutes. And, no one disagrees that the board has better things to do with their time. Klubnikin, unlike Darrell Nolta, spends considerable time spinning each issue he speaks on before the board into his personal saga of troubles with the county and courts. But, rather than use existing rules to further prohibit abuse of his right to speak, the supervisors decided to limit everyone. And, there is little comfort in Moorlach’s assertion that the board would have discretion to allow variance when necessary. If limiting the possibility of lawsuits, as Bill Campbell asserted, is one reason for the rule, then allowing this type of discretion will probably lead to a likelihood of a lawsuit when it is perceived that the board is allowing their cronies and advocates extra time but not those who they perceive as adversarial.

For the time being, it looks as if the Orange County Board of Supervisors will have their way. How long will it be until individual city councils will follow suit? As it stands, few people actually speak before the government councils because they feel their voices are not heard. Folks like Nolta who, while often perceived as gadflys, believe themselves to be acting in a watchdog capacity, may now pay the price for expediency.

We’d like to know what you think of this issue? Should a governmental body, whose purpose it is to listen and serve the public, be allowed to unnecessarily limit the right of the public to address them simply for the sake of expediency?