Sometimes you just don’t know what to say. For me, this bad dream should be over the first week of January (or maybe not, see http://taxdollars.ocregister.com/2010/07/20/surprise-would-be-treasurer-tax-collector-didnt-pay-taxes/60913/ — a gaffe that can be avoided by checking your parcel number or address on the Treasurer’s website).
Some clarifications and observations may be in order regarding today’s article found in the OC Register.
The current yield of the County’s Money Market Pool is 0.3514 percent, the highest it has yielded this year was 0.4611 percent (on June 24 for a five-day brief spike), the lowest was 0.2343 percent (January 7). Otherwise, it has been trading within this bandwidth. The year of 2009 ended with a yield of 0.2294 percent, dropping from 1.14 percent on January 2. These are historic lows. You can’t get much closer to a zero net yield. It would be hard to average a yield of 0.54 percent from this data as the yield was 0.5017 percent one-year ago on July 17. This is a tough market to make “tremendous gains.”
I did visit both Washington, D.C. and New York City once during my twelve years as Treasurer, but on vacation with my family. This did not cost the County a dime. I never went to a conference there nor did I go to lobby any bills. For campaign and politically related conferences, I paid for those, the County did not.
Although I “emphasized” staff training, it did have to be reduced due to budget constraints. But staff training is staff training, not my taking out-of-state junkets.
In reviewing my Continuing Professional Education reports, which are required for my licenses (e.g., 40 hours per year for my C.P.A.), I did minimal out-of-state travel during my twelve year tenure as Treasurer. I still was able to get my educational hours, which means I did attend work-related conferences that met more than my annual minimum requirements. In the years of 2004 and 2005, I accomplished this all within the state of California.
In summary, I emphasized education. What I did not emphasize was travel and lodging.
As trustee of a bankrupt company, Chriss Street got in trouble for using his client’s money for his own self interests, including expensive dinners and resort hotels.
As Orange County’s treasurer-tax collector, Street and his top managers have spent more than $60,000 during the last two years attending conferences in such far-flung places as New York, Las Vegas and Washington D.C. — with stays at the Waldorf Astoria and Venetian hotels.
“It looks like some habits die hard,” said County Supervisor John Moorlach, who held the treasurers’ job for 12 years before Street. “I never went to New York or Washington D.C. What the heck is going on?”
Street defended his travel, saying that the things he and his staff learned helped them invest $6.5 billion for the county and more than 20 local school districts. Under his guidance, the county treasury was highly praised by outside groups for its safety, Street said, with its money market fund earning 0.54 percent in the last year.
“Many of our skills and innovations we’ve learned by going to conferences,” Street said.
However, Street was stripped of his investment duties by county supervisors in March. The action followed a U.S. bankruptcy court ruling that he wasted millions of his client’s money in his former job as a bankruptcy trustee.
Barred from investing, Street and his staff continue to travel and spend, with about six months left on his term as treasurer-tax collector.
Expense documents reviewed by the Orange County Register show that Street and his human resources chief went to San Francisco for a “business process management” class in June at a cost of $11,462. Street’s executive aide Anna Bryson is scheduled to go to South Carolina for a treasurer’s conference later this month.
The Register’s analysis also showed that Street:
- Spent $241 in December to attend the funeral of lobbyist Don Peterson in Sacramento. Travel documents stated the trip was to attend the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors legislative meeting — which was held a day before Street went to Sacramento. In an interview, Street confirmed he went to the funeral, but said he also met that day with state education officials.
- Spent $560 to stay one night at the Waldorf Astoria in February 2008, because other hotels near the conference were booked. “You look for the best price you can, but New York is New York,” Street said.
- Charged the county $250 for a meal in February 2009 at Zeffirino, a high-end Italian restaurant at the Venetian resort in Las Vegas. Street said the tab was for three people and did not include alcohol. “We went there for dinner and that’s what they charged,” he said.
- Routinely made last minute flight arrangements and changes that boosted the cost of travel. In April 2008, Street and Bryson made so many changes that it pushed the cost of airfare for a San Francisco trip from $1,620 to $2,300. One of the reasons for the changes was so that Street and his wife could appear in the South Coast Medical Center Fashion Show, according to an email from Bryson to a staff secretary. ”I try to fly and book in advance, but oftentimes there were conflicts,” Street said. “You want to try and live my life?”
- Traveled six times to New York, mostly to meet with an investment advisor called Lombard Street. He and staff also went seven times to Washington, D.C., mostly to meet with a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which advocates limited government.
“I don’t see what (ALEC) has to do with the treasurer’s office,” Moorlach said. “I made money for the county, I didn’t spend the county’s money.”
Street countered, “John did not emphasize training staff.”
Besides travel, Street spent $5,300 during the last two years on magazines, books, poster boards and assorted goods. Among the costs was $1,600 to outfit each staff member with a respirator mask for the flu pandemic that never came.
“I think if we had a pandemic, we would have been able to continue to serve the public,” Street said.
Documents show that Street spent $737 alone on financial books and magazines, with at least seven of the purchases made at airports.
In December, Street used his county credit card to buy two copies of the Rosetta Stone language learning software at $888, one for Vietnamese and one for Spanish. The Vietnamese copy sits unopened in his office.
Street said he has been practicing Spanish and is moving on to Vietnamese, saying it is important for his agency to communicate with the public.
“We are the most public-focused entity in the county. We get everybody,” Street said. “The bottom line to all this was we did business. It was an environment where you could make tremendous gains.”
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
Norberto Santana, Jr., of the OC Register, did an interesting contrast piece with “Retirement costs loom as county refinances – Potential crisis brews as officials arrange to pay off bankruptcy debt a decade early.” You can see how much fun it is telling the truth when some don’t want to hear it, or don’t want to invest the time to understand it. And why not? They won’t be here when the ship hits the sand.
County supervisors were slapping one another on the back Tuesday as they finalized arrangements to pay off the 1994 county bankruptcy debt a decade early. But county documents show signs that another fiscal storm could be brewing.
According to a disclosure that is part of the county’s debt-refinancing package, new estimates show that the county’s costs for employee pensions and retiree medical insurance could soon double and near the $5 billion mark.
This week, CEO Tom Mauk asked all county departments to find ways to absorb an extra $129 million in pension costs for 2006-07.
County Treasurer/Tax Collector John Moorlach . . . says creeping pension costs will ultimately take a huge chunk out of funds available for public services, just like the bankruptcy payments.
A majority of county supervisors say Moorlach is wrong, arguing that the pension and insurance issue can be managed. Some even accuse him of using the issue to advance his political career.
“Scare tactics are always difficult to deal with when you’re dealing with financial matters,” said Supervisor Tom Wilson about the concerns being raised by Moorlach.
“The county is in pretty good shape,” Wilson said.
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