MOORLACH UPDATE — Daily Pilot — December 17, 2009

The Daily Pilot has a regular column, The Political Landscape, on Thursdays.  Yesterday’s “MOORLACH UPDATE” provided fodder for the first half of the column.

The second half is of an even more serious matter.  Last week I asked you to pray for Ron Young, husband of Orange County Fair & Event Center Board Director Mary Young, after he suffered a massive stroke.  Please keep Mary Young in your prayers at this time of loss.

There was an article in Wednesday’s OC Register that I missed, but wanted to forward for two specific reasons.  The first is that, as a Board of Supervisors, we need a management tool that we can go to, if necessary, when an elected official is straying off the reservation.  We have one for the Treasurer’s office that I tried to utilize last year.  We have to delegate the authority to invest.  If we do not, then the Board is responsible for managing the County’s investment pools.  The agenda item with the Public Administrator/Public Guardian was similar.  Let’s have a mechanism in place that, if needed, we can pull the Public Guardian position out from the PA/PG combined role (which is how it has been until just last year).  This is just a minor change in the combination and was not an immediate dismantling of the department, as John Williams’ legal counsel portrayed it to be.  Which brings me to my second concern.  Why does an elected department head need outside counsel?

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The Political Landscape:
County supervisors trade barbs

John Moorlach criticizes colleague Janet Nguyen’s management style after voting against her.

By Brianna Bailey and Mona Shadia

In a lengthy e-mail to his constituents Wednesday, Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach called fellow Supervisor Janet Nguyen a “yeller,” and said her management style was to “bite people’s heads off.”

“If she doesn’t get her way, then she’ll excoriate you,” Moorlach wrote.

Moorlach sent out the angry e-mail one day after he cast a lone, dissenting vote against selecting Nguyen to be the next chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. The ceremonial position rotates among board members annually. At the meeting, Moorlach questioned Nguyen’s management style.

Nguyen fired back at Moorlach at the end, accusing Moorlach of having a “petty political agenda.”

She went on to say that during Moorlach’s term as chairman two years ago, he had shown a “lack of courtesy and decorum the likes that I have not seen in 13 years since I have worked for the Board of Supervisors.”

In the e-mail, Moorlach accused Nguyen of frequently being unprepared for board meetings, demanding her friends be hired into county positions and forcing a high-ranking sheriff’s department official to resign.

“Regretfully, with our current economy, the shape of the State of California, a vacant Fourth District office for at least five months and a boatload of other issues, we do not need a yeller as our chair,” Moorlach wrote. “We need someone who wants to serve, not someone who demands to be served.”

HELP WANTED AT FAIR BOARD

The state attorney general’s office has withdrawn itself from representing the Orange County Fair & Event Center, also known as the 32nd District Agricultural Assn.

The attorney general’s office represents all state agencies and departments, including the Orange County fairgrounds and its board.

But turmoil surrounding the fair board members’ activities, which included lobbying for the sale of the 150-acre property and forming a nonprofit organization to buy it, led the attorney general’s office to step away from dealing with the fair board members and the state organization itself.

“Given the seemingly intertwined and potentially conflicting interests of the district, the district board members and the nonprofit, we have determined that we should withdraw from providing legal services to the district, including the district board, until all issues relating to the proposed sale of the district fairgrounds have been resolved,” J. Matthew Rodriquez, the chief assistant attorney general, stated in a letter to Kristina Dodge, chairwoman of the fairgrounds board.

The Orange County district attorney’s office is investigating complaints about the fairgrounds’ board.

Meanwhile, the fairgrounds board family has suffered a loss.

Mary Young, a member of the fairground board, and one of the two remaining foundation board members, lost her husband after he suffered two massive strokes last week.

Ron Young could not recover and was taken off of life support.

Ron Young was much loved in the community, said county Supervisor Moorlach.

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Despite protest, supervisors allow public administrator to keep duties

Jennifer Muir

Against the urging of the county’s chief executive, county supervisors narrowly voted to keep embattled Public Administrator John Williams office intact.

The vote comes on the heels of two scathing Grand Jury reports alleging Williams doubled his management budget and broke personnel rules. The grand jury recommended changing Williams’ job from an elected job to a board-appointed position.

County CEO Tom Mauk’s proposal didn’t go that far. He asked supervisors this afternoon to split the Public Administrator and Public Guardian positions — both headed by Williams — and give Mauk oversight authority of the Public Guardian office, which would be changed to an appointed job.

Board Chairwoman Pat Bates and supervisors Janet Nguyen and Chris Norby voted against the change. Bates said Williams already has fixed some of the problems identified in the grand jury report and suggested that the board revisit the issue during budget hearings, when questions about his pay and other details about a potential split could be resolved.

“I would call on Mr. Williams to make a concerted effort to make a collaborative approach on management issues,” board chairwoman Pat Bates said. “Until I’m certain about what they are doing, I think this is premature.”

Williams has denied many of the allegations in the report, saying the grand jury didn’t understand much of the complicated information he provided. He didn’t speak at this morning’s meeting or at a meeting last week when supervisors postponed deciding.

Last week Williams’ personal attorney Phil Greer spoke in his place, saying Mauk’s proposal would be expensive and inefficient. (Greer has represented all but one of the county supervisors, John Moorlach, who along with Supervisor Bill Campbell, voted to split up the office.)

As the Public Administrator, Williams is charged with overseeing the estates of deceased residents who have no known heirs. As Public Guardian, he investigates and protects those who are unable to care for themselves, such as the elderly and mentally ill.

Union leader Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employee’s Association, said the situation at the department is “critical” and urged supervisors to act immediately.

He reiterated concerns raised in May memo by county Human Resources Director Carl Crown that Williams promoted two managers in violation of county policy and noted he’s being asked to lay off five union employees in Williams’ office.

“This is a renegade department,” Berardino said. “We’re facing layoffs at a time when they’re management heavy … The tax payers deserve much better than they are getting.”

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

December 17

1999

The toll road fiasco created a spotlight on other activities.  Jenifer McKim and James Kelleher of the OC Register provided one in “Toll-road proposal echoes 91 plans – Effort to link 57 and I-405 freeways draws extra scrutiny in wake of failed Express Lanes sale.”

                A Phoenix-based development consortium is contemplating building a toll road over the Santa Ana River by using tax-exempt bonds and creating a $1 billion construction contract for itself – with no outside bids.

                The proposal by American Transportation Development LLC in some key ways echoes this week’s failed deal in which the owner of the 91 Express Lanes tried to sell that toll road to a company using tax-exempt bonds.

                “If I were (American Transportation), I would want to lay low and wait for the dust to settle.  I would be scared to death,” said county Treasurer John Moorlach, one of the first to criticize the 91 Express Lanes sale.

The OC Register’s Jonathan Lansner addressed the topic of “Toll woes stem from recession.”  Boy, if this doesn’t resonate with what we’re experiencing now, you can’t get much closer.  Here are the first few paragraphs, which could have been written today.

                Desperate times deserve desperate measure.  And in 1993 a recession had a chokehold on this region.

            Family budgets were tight, corporate finances were weak, and government coffers were thin and fighting a recession-flamed movement to pare them even more.

Enter two concepts that until recently seemed oh-so-distant: A county treasurer trying to get more mileage out of tax dollars and transportation officials dreaming of a tax-free road.

Yes, the county’s bond debacle and the privately owned 91 Depressed Lanes are business disasters of very different feathers. They stand united today by their sloppy dealings with Wall Street. However, that’s not their sole link: Hindsight shows that seeds to both blunders clearly lie in the anxiety from California’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Back in those glum days these two endeavors were initially seen as breakthrough tacks, shining examples of innovative government.  Unfortunately, no one had the gumption in that depressing era to see past the shiny fronts and look deep under the hood.

                The-Treasurer Bob Citron’s insane bets on the bond market originally allowed local officials to keep services high and taxes steady during times when others were slashing or taxing.

Nary a local politico asked questions.  Some borrowed money to play Bob’s Casino.  Even local voters, when provided with John Moorlach’s cut-the-risk campaign to unseat Citron, opted to double down.  The ’94 bankruptcy ensued.  It’s no secret that governments love cash flow.  And that governments love to build things.  So anything that makes construction easier often gets cozy support.

                Plus, pouring concrete creates jobs—well, at least short-lived construction gigs.  Hey, during a recession any employment boost sounds pretty sweet.

And Robert W. Poole, Jr., director of transportation studies at the Reason Public Policy Institute gave a “thou protesteth too much” commentary in the OC Register’s Orange Grove section with “Funding for 91.”

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