MOORLACH UPDATE — MAP — September 2, 2010

MAP is the acronym for Managing an Accounting Practice.  When I was the administrative partner of Balser, Horowitz, Frank & Wakeling, an Accountancy Corporation, I did my best to submit the MAP survey on an annual basis.  I provided all of our pertinent data, including billings, receivables, square footage of our office, etc.  A few months later, I would receive a MAP Report that synthesized the data and provided the average ranges for accounting firms of various sizes.  This report was a very useful management tool.  I strongly believe that a similar report should be provided for counties, cities, water districts—you name it – as it provides a base from which to do some comparative analysis. 

I’ve preached this message to the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors during my twelve years of involvement, an idea that was met with strong resistance.  My colleagues in the other 57 counties were not keen on comparing yields or cost per tax bill.  Why?  The vast majority of Treasurer-Tax Collectors are elected.  Who wants to have the lowest yield?  Who wants to have the highest cost per capita for their tax bills?  Who needs to feed that information to a potential opponent?  What they missed is that if the Association prepared the report, it could include the necessary narrative to explain the outliers.  When San Bernardino County had a very low property tax collection percentage a few years back, it was easily explained by the fact that it experienced three military base closings.  But, the data, gathered by the State Controller’s Office, was awkward.  If you control the data, you can provide the necessary color.  If you leave a vacuum, then reporters willing to do the “pick and shovel” work will publicize it for you, a la the city of Bell.

That lays the groundwork for the Orange Grove editorial submission that I did with Brandman University Professor Fred Smoller in today’s OC Register.  Fred has been a professor at Chapman and Brandman since the bankruptcy days and I enjoyed opportunities to speak to his classes over the years.  We tag teamed on the idea of a MAP for governments.  Being proactive and transparent is the best strategy for elected officials to take.

The second article is also from today’s OC Register.  One reporter told me that the Spitzer/Rackauckas story is the buzz of the newsroom.  Consequently, I’ll provide them to you when my office is invoked.  The new mystery?  Why didn’t I receive a nasty gram from PA/PG John Williams?  After all, my Chief of Staff dealt with the same taxpayer and the same department.

One observation that I’d like to make is the joy of working with appointed and elected department heads.  With appointed department heads, you have the ability to request behavioral modifications or there is the possibility of termination.  With electeds, they can do the goofiest things and the Board is literally at a loss to do much of anything.  Yet, when the electeds implode, a la Citron, it’s the Supervisors that are held accountable.  All to say, please help out the Board and vote for the best qualified County-wide electeds.

Moorlach & Smoller: Compare municipalities side by side

By JOHN M.W. MOORLACH and FRED SMOLLER

Moorlach is 2nd District Orange County supervisor; Smoller is director of Brandman University’s Master’s in Public Administration program

Legislation proposed by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, which would have required cities and local government agencies to post salaries on their websites and file them with the state Controller’s Office, failed to win approval in the Legislature’s hectic final hours this week.

This bill, which Sen. Correa plans to reintroduce in the new session, and others with a similar goal of greater government transparency – thank you, city of Bell – are a good first step. However, we need to encourage a proactive posture on government spending. We need a data archive – which Brandman University would be interested in hosting and managing – to make useful comparisons on a range of performance measures, not just salaries.

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Such data bases are commonplace in private industry, higher education, even sports. For example, each year many certified public accounting firms fill out a "Managing an Accounting Practice" survey. The survey is sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. 

Similar surveys are conducted for colleges and universities by organizations such as U.S. News and World Report. These rankings are used by universities to measure their performance across time and to compare themselves with other schools. This is an important management tool for college administrators and their boards of trustees. The reports also provide consumers – students and parents – with genuinely helpful information.

The public sector does not embrace these performance measuring efforts. Government agencies dislike being compared. For county treasurers, for example, the idea of having their monthly or annual investment yields compared sends shivers up their spines. However, if they compiled a listing of yields by county and provided the weighted average maturity and portfolio compositions, like the private sector does monthly, the public would come closer to having a fair and objective analysis of each county’s investment strategies.

Once you have good, comparable data, then voters, elected officials and city staff can make more informed decisions. If the data reveals that a city with a population of 50,000 should be paying its the city manager approximately $200,000 per year, then a city with a population of less than 40,000 shouldn’t be paying nearly an $800,000 annual salary, for example. A city’s oversight board, its elected council, should be able to remedy such a large aberration in a quick and decisive manner. This information would also be useful in hiring negotiations.

Fears of being an outlier may surface among governmental entities. That is why a "notes" section should be included in all reports, to explain the reasons why, for example, a city manager is paid considerably above the average for similar cities. These notes could go a long way toward maintaining and/or restoring citizen trust.

Of course, government agencies differ from universities and certified public accounting firms. This is due to differing sizes, budget issues, a unionized workforce and public expectations. The basic data on a given municipality can be gleaned from its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. A survey of other municipalities would collect more data, and comparable matrixes could be developed in a reader-friendly manner. 

In this era of information technology, it is time to assemble the data and utilize it in order to make better management decisions on behalf of taxpayers. Transparency, comparable data and financial surveys should be embraced by the public sector. A proactive posture on public finances will save everyone the embarrassment that some of our neighbors are enduring.

Column: Spitzer stops by Register to make case

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By FRANK MICKADEIT

COLUMNIST

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

fmickadeit@ocregister.com

Todd Spitzer ‘s case that D.A. Tony Rackauckas unfairly fired him looked stronger Wednesday, as the jeans-clad ex-assistant D.A. showed up in our third-floor newsroom toting a certified-complete county personnel file containing no evidence he has ever had a disciplinary problem.

Spitzer gave the file to reporter Kimberly Edds for her inspection, and then he and I walked up to the fourth-floor patio to discuss the details of the incident that immediately preceded his firing – and his theory about the politics behind it.

Spitzer was fired after public administrator/guardian said Spitzer tried to get information to which he was not entitled by claiming he had a legitimate law enforcement purpose. As Edds reported earlier, unbeknownst to Spitzer, an aide to Supervisor John Moorlach had asked the administrator/guardian about the same confidential matter and was told it was under investigation. Both Moorlach and Administrator/Guardian John Williams told me Wednesday that the inquiry by Moorlach’s aide, Rick Francis, did not generate a complaint from Williams to Moorlach.

So, if Spitzer and Francis asked for the same info, why did Spitzer’s inquiry draw a complaint? Williams confirmed that it wasn’t uncommon for his agency to tell another that a specific matter was being investigated. Did Spitzer want to know something more than Francis did? Williams will only say, "It was a request for information I felt was inappropriate."

Spitzer, of course, says he wanted nothing more than Francis asked for. So was it the manner in which Spitzer asked for it that upset Williams and T-Rack to the point T-Rack fired him? Was it improper to point out he had been a county supervisor and an assemblyman?

Spitzer said he doesn’t remember doing so but also contends he wouldn’t have to anyway, except perhaps in passing. All the authority he needed was vested in his position as a prosecutor.

So why did he get fired?

Politics, he says. When I talked to Spitzer on Sunday, he wouldn’t make the charge. I’m not going to do it for him – at least until I get more facts. Tuesday, though, Spitzer took off the gloves and alleged he was fired because T-Rack’s chief of staff, Susan Schroeder , wanted him out of the way so she could be the next D.A.

On Wednesday, he elaborated . T-Rack, as we know, was going to run in 2010 for one last term and had promised to back Spitzer in 2014 as long as he completed various assignments in the D.A.’s Office. He was doing that, he says, and was generally getting good feedback from T-Rack. Spitzer, with $1 million in the bank, could have run this year, but his agreement was that he wouldn’t as long as T-Rack kept his end of the deal.

On March 12, the filing period to run for D.A. this year ended; T-Rack was unopposed. Three weeks later, T-Rack named Schroeder chief of staff, a new position. It was also pretty much only a new title because she didn’t have authority over the rest of the D.A.’s staff. But it was an impressive title, and Spitzer was angry. Not because she got a title, he says, but because T-Rack didn’t consult him.

"I asked him to postpone (the announcement)," Spitzer said. "That I would like to discuss it. You know the last person who was a chief of staff in a major law enforcement agency in this county? George Jaramillo . Carona set him up to be sheriff. I said, ‘This is a Carona move.’" T-Rack, he said, wouldn’t reconsider.

Soon after, Spitzer said , a rapprochement dinner was held at the Schroeders’ house. Spitzer brought Susan an expensive bowl from Rogers’ Gardens, and he and T-Rack came to an agreement: In eight months, after two more assignments, T-Rack would name him chief deputy, the No. 2 job in the office – unfilled since Chuck Middleton went surfing in 2007.

Now it was Susan’s turn to worry, Spitzer contends. "She had eight months to calculate my demise." The result, he claims, was her blowing up three minor incidents (see Edds’ story) and the recent public guardian issue. He also now believes her promotion was deliberately timed until after the filing deadline so Spitzer couldn’t react by jumping into the D.A,’s race this year.

Obviously, there’s a big hole here: Schroeder’s side. Read me tomorrow.

Mickadeit writes Mon.-Fri. Contact him at 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com.

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