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Not Just No But, HELL No!

Credit: The Liberal OC

Credit: The Liberal OC

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.

The OC Supervisor’s Embarass Themselves

squirm firm oc“You’re here to help us, not embarass us nationally.” That’s the words from Orange County Supervisor, John Moorlach, as he lashed out at the Orange County Grand Jury for their latest missive dinging the Board of Supervisors for massive mis-management of CalOptima. Two scathing reports caused the Fair Political Practices Commission to initiate an ethics investigation into the handling of the organization by the Board.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

I can also say it is shameful the way the Board of Supervisors reacted. Although any reader of Our Town Tustin knows I have little regard for the Orange County Grand Jury, it never surprises me how the, so-called, Republican Leadership continues to deny corruption and, when denial fails them, lashes out at those who speak the truth.

PBS SoCal televised the ranting supervisors in the video above. Each supervisor took a swipe or two at the Grand Jury. But, it was Todd Spitzer, future District Attorney and, presumably the Grand Jury’s boss, who actually had the gall to infer that Orange County has no corruption. News flash, Todd, Orange County is about as corrupt as can be and no amount of denial by you or your corrupt cronies on the Board can allay the belief of the voters here in the Real OC.

Supervisor Janer Ngyuen, saying the report “demoralized” her and her family as well as “the 500 employees who work at CalOptima”, was laughable in her defense of a situation that she clearly manipulated to garner favor wtih her constituency when she was appointed as the Board’s representative to the organization. I have news for her, the 500 employees of CalOptima were probably laughing their collective asses off when they saw this video.

Grand Jury Foreman, Ray Garcia, says he stands by the reports. “The only thing I will say about the corruption thing is, you  ought to read the corruption thing. It’s a chronology of four decades of malfeasance, misfeasance and downright crime.”  Unlike us, Garcia says he was surprised on the backlash from the ethics commission suggestion. Of course, we’re not.

This video shows one thing: the Orange County Board of Supervisors have shamed themselves, more than any report or investigation possibly could. Instead of whining about this, as Shawn Nelson and poor, little hurt Janet Nguyen did, they should be taking an honest look at themselves and how they have acted during their tenure. From failures to identify and rout out sexually criminal behavior to how they have treated the employees in general of this county, they have led among Republican leaders in this county to hide the truth from the public. And now that they have been called on it, all they can do is scream and yell at the messenger.

The investigation will take a year or more. In truth, I don’t expect much to come of it. Ann Ravel, the chief of the FPPC is a milkweed at best. She has never outed any politician, Republican or Democrat for a substantial infraction and I don’t expect her to do much more than pay lip service to this. It is refreshing to see this out in the open, however. And it is fun to watch the worms squirm.

Thanks, Mom!

Moorlach_Thanks_MomYeah, I know, you were expecting a post on the upcoming (and yet not quite thrilling) Planning Commission meeting tonight.  We can’t help you. That’s because, since Friday, when they posted an agenda with one item of decidedly non-interest, they subsequently canceled their meeting. At least they are not wasting thousands of dollars in city staff time and resources on a single item that could be put off until next meeting. The only issue is, did they give proper notice of the cancellation? This is only important to those who might have spoken on the public hearing issue (probably zero in this case) and those civil ethicists like myself. The next meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission is June 25, 2013 at 7 pm.

In the meantime, I thought I would cast the net a bit wider and write about the latest meanderings of lame duck Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach. When we last discussed Moorlach, he was contemplating a run for California Governor…. or was it Assemblyman? Oh yeah, it was Auditor-Controller. Well, John has apparently decided against running for governor. in a recent article from our friends at the Orange County Breeze, Moorlach stated in an email to his constituents that, after much soul-searching and looking to his mom, he decided to rule out a run for governor.

“This is a personal-management principal that was deeply ingrained into my psyche by my mother’s parent tape. A parent tape is something that your parents say over and over again in order to drill something into you,” the email states. Apparently, that tape includes excerpts on not doing stupid things like mounting an ill-fated run for governor against an immensely popular and Democratic candidate in an overwhelmingly blue state. “After spending a good five months looking at what I should be doing next, I have taken a potential run for the office of Governor of the State of California off the list….I am not running for Governor for the State of California.”

There. He said it. That makes it absolute…sort of.

Remember when Moorlach first ascended to the Board of Supervisors? I do. One of the most prominent and promising things he said was, “I do not intend to run for higher office. This [the board of supervisors] will be as far as I go,” or words to that effect. I am sure they are recorded somewhere as I was not the only one present when he said them.

Apparently, however, Moorlach has a selective memory. Several months ago, when he first announced his exploration for a possible run for governor, I recalled his original words. Although I was not shocked that he would renege on his promise, actually more of an avowal, I think everyone was amazed that this egotist actually thought himself worthy of the governorship of California. Anyone else would have quietly gone to the real kingmakers of the Orange County GOP and discussed the matter with them first. Instead, Moorlach took the road of his colleague, the ambitious yet reckless Todd Spitzer, and found himself contemplating his embarrassment when the likes of Scott Baugh and Mike Schroeder failed or refused to back him on his play.

As time went on, it was becoming even more obvious that Moorlach wanted desperately to become a career politician, something that he eschewed in the beginning. Shortly after his “governor” announcement, he lowered his sights to Orange County Auditor-Controller, a job that even I will admit he is well-qualified to assume. Then, he turned left (or is it right) again, and said he was exploring a run for the Assembly. And, he did all this while not taking himself out of the run for the governorship. That made him look like even more of a buffoon than he already was. Was he actually (and desperately) hoping the GOP honchos, who finally figured out the only thing the rest of the GOP wants from them is their money, would speak up and say, “Yes! We want John!” Oh, please.

Since the years of Moorlach’s warning of the bankruptcy, the OCGOP has preferred he remain in the background. He was anointed for the Board of Supervisors run and won handily by  70%. Most of that, however, was due to the fact he faced no real opposition. Prior to his run for the Supervisors, he was appointed county tax collector and then won two more terms only because no one really wants to be the tax collector. I suppose all those years in office, with a nice pension to garner, has jaded our John. He has, in the end, become the nemesis of the everyday people, a career politician.

It seems John has come full circle. He has spent much of his professional life in elected office, first as tax collector and then as Orange County Supervisor. where he was unable to accomplish his real goals dismantling the public employee pension system while keeping his own lucrative pension intact. His “exploratory” stab at the governorship died for lack of a second and his pitch to swap seats with Assemblyman Alan Mansoor remains in limbo due mostly to how Mansoor sizes up the battle with Michelle Steel. That leaves Moorlach the almost sure bet of winning the race (if there is one) for auditor-controller, a position, as we said, for which he is well-qualified.

But, now that he has had a taste of power, will Moorlach be content to live the rest of his career in relative obscurity? If he does take the auditor post, you can bet he will continue to make the most of it by publicly speaking -and opportunistically blasting- the future OC Board. And, we will be able to thank John’s mom for giving him sage advice.

The Board of Supervisors Doesn’t Get It…..Again

blazing-saddles-355Every time I think of the OC Board of Supervisors, I’m reminded of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”. No, not the campfire scene, although I can understand why you would go there. I’m talking about the scene where Governor William J. Le Petomane is meeting with his advisors and insists everyone be as incensed as he is over the corruption in fictional Rock Ridge. Everyone around the table starts saying “harumph, harumph…”. That’s the reaction of the Supervisors as they received the bad news that most everyone else in Orange County already knew.

Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Moss ruled against the county saying they illegally withheld more than $73 million in property taxes from the state. To make matters worse, the figure now looms at $140 million by the time this fiscal year is over. The Voice of OC did a pretty good job of outlining the problem in layman’s terms.

When the county financed its 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 or 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.

In 2011, Brown’s budget staff discovered the omission and took back the money, prompting an intense reaction from county leaders. Assemblyman Jose Solorio sponsored last-minute legislation to fix the situation for the county, but it failed to make it through both houses of the Legislature.

You read right. The county ignored the problem even when the gaff was first discovered and then, when the state demanded the money to balance their own budget, county Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio tried to fix it with last-minute legislation. But, Sacramento Democrats took the opportunity to beat down one of the few Republican strongholds by refusing to pass the legislation in time. Without the legislation, loss of the money was a sure thing.

Nonetheless, the Board of Supervisors convinced Auditor David Sundstrom to withhold payment of property taxes from the state. The state promptly sued the county and the writing was on the wall. As with previous pension lawsuits involving the deputy sheriffs union and the retirement system, the Gang of Five ignored the obvious and argued that the intent to keep the status quo had always been there and so, they must be right (right about now, I am hearing John Moorlach jumping up and down while screaming epithets at Jerry Brown).

From the outset, nearly everyone in the county has warned them the court battle would be uphill. In reality, I don’t think anyone wanted to tell the county it had a zero chance but, in truth, that is what they had.

In a video briefing to public union employees, Orange County Employees Association General Manager, Nick Berardino, said, “It was, once again, county executives falling asleep at the switch,as they did during the bankruptcy, when they forgot to include the $73 million dollars state subsidy when they refinanced the bankruptcy funds.” Berardino did agree that the state is treating the county unfairly by requiring the repayment but also said the county did not do its job in protecting the funds to begin with. Berardino lamented that Supervisors are already ringing the layoff bell and laying the responsibility on the backs of the public employees to balance the budget. “The county did the same thing when it declared bankruptcy in 1994.”

Berardino is not the only one to publicly admonish the county for its lack of diligence. In an Orange County Register article published May 9th, Andrew Galvin alleges the local community colleges pleaded with the county in 2011 not to withhold the funds from the state. The money grab, according to them, would result in a serious shortfall of funds going to community colleges in the area. When the county continued the grab, the community colleges joined the state in the lawsuit.

So, when will the county ever get it right? If this were a trust owned by a private family, they would have fired their lawyers for giving them bad advice long ago. In the case of the Board of Supervisors, they have been led astray time after time and not only by county counsel, but attorney-come-chief-of-staff Mario Mainero as well as a plethora of hired gun law offices who, oftentimes while giving good advice, have been unsuccessful in turning the opinion of the Gang of Five.

I have no idea how much money has been spent, so far, by the Board of Supervisors on this debacle. Any amount, however, is too much when one considers how tight the budget is now. Unfortunately for the citizens of Orange County, the Gang of Five may be planning another play as they appeal the ruling to a higher court. In the best case scenario for them, the judge would delay the transfer of funds until the appeals court sides with the trial court. That would be a temporary fix at best. Eventually, the money would have to be repaid. What the Supervisors might want to look at is negotiating a payment schedule. Given the animosity the OC GOP has garnered in recent years in Sacramento, our Democrat governor may turn a deaf ear. Better get that checkbook out, John.