MOORLACH UPDATE — Labor Day Weekend — September 4, 2010

Let me begin by wishing you a relaxing Labor Day weekend.

If you’ve decided to not travel this weekend, then allow me to recommend that you visit the Upper Newport Bay.  The Muth Interpretive Center is a jewel.  This is the lead in for the first article found in the Daily Pilot.  We’ve reached a milestone worth mentioning.

The second article is from the Voice of OC on a matter that was before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning.  One of the major initiatives that I would like to see accomplished in my second term is the establishment of an Independent Medical Examiner Department.  This department would assume the Coroner function from the Sheriff’s Department.  It would independently run the DNA Labs now operated by both the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office.  And, it should also oversee the contentious correctional health function currently operated by the Health Care Agency.

I do not see this as a new layer of government.  I see it as a new box on the organizational chart that would be responsible for these functions.  Consequently, I do not see additional costs.  In fact, the County may even see reduced costs by avoiding awkward litigation regarding a lack of independence in the DNA labs.  It is not wise to have the investigative arm in control of the DNA lab.  Likewise, it also not wise for the prosecutorial arm to be in control of the DNA lab.  It’s working, and it is what we have.  But, we should strive to pursue a model that is deemed the best in the area of conflicts of interest.

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Newport Bay restoration complete

Project took four years and cost $50 million, with help of federal stimulus money.

The four-year, $50 million restoration of Upper Newport Bay is complete, according to a report published Friday evening.

By removing sediment caused by urban runoff and refurbishing islands, the project should safeguard "Southern California’s largest estuary for decades to come," the Orange County Register reported.

The project was in danger because of a funding shortfall but $18 million in federal stimulus funding made it possible for crews to wrap up the project, which was initially expected to cost $40 million.

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff credited the stimulus package.

"It’s the reason it’s done," he told the newspaper.

The 750-acre property is a natural habitat is popular with bird-watchers and serves as a natural habitat to many species.

"So much of the beauty that attracts us here, keeps us here, is the water that occupies almost every view and landscape. It is a life force that LIFTS us, our recreation, our economy, our sense of well-being," City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said in an e-mail to the Daily Pilot.

"This significant regional project restored the natural estuarine vitality of the waters of the Upper Bay to support wildlife and fisheries and improve Flushing of the Lower Bay. The City appreciates the efforts of Supervisor John Moorlach and County staff, the lead agency and the steadfast support of the Orange County Congressional delegation."

—From staff reports

Voice of OC

A Battle Over Who Should Run Orange County’s DNA Lab

There is a running disagreement over who should oversee Orange County’s DNA crime lab, with two members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the grand jury holding three separate opinions on the issue.

Currently, the lab, a component of the Orange County Crime Lab, is under a three-way management partnership between the sheriff-coroner, the district attorney and the county chief executive, Tom Mauk.

The grand jury wants to see the DNA crime lab returned to the sole purview of the sheriff-coroner. Meanwhile, Supervisor John Moorlach wants to see an independent medical examiner formed to oversee the lab, and Supervisor Bill Campbell wants the lab to remain under the three-way management arrangement.

The triangle of opposition revealed itself this week as the supervisors rejected the grand jury report’s recommendation and supervisors Moorlach and Campbell butted heads.

In its official response to the grand jury report, the board turned down a recommendation to boot the lab’s co-managers and return oversight solely to the sheriff. The grand jury report said employee morale took a hit when the district attorney and the CEO jumped in to co-manage with the sheriff.

Moorlach was the only supervisor to vote against the response.

Moorlach and Campbell briefly debated forming the independent medical examiner. Moorlach explained his position using a hypothetical serial killer, saying such a conflict of interest could undermine objective forensic science.

"We’ve now finally arrested a serial killer, and there is something unethical — some evidence was forced to come to certain conclusions, this serial killer is released on a technicality. Now what do we do?" Moorlach asked.

Moorlach also said that the independent medical examiner would be the "cutting edge" approach. But a county CEO report on the idea found cutting edge might result in cost increases.

The report’s finding of "potential" cost increases wasn’t good enough for Moorlach. With the green light of the other supervisors, including Campbell, Moorlach pushed to have staff further analyze the cost of forming the independent medical examiner. Moorlach doesn’t believe a change in organization would have such an impact.

"I’m kind of curious as an accountant, where are the increased costs?" Moorlach asked.

Moorlach also cited a report from the National Academy of Sciences, which discussed conflict of interest concerns. Voice of OC Reporter Tracy Wood featured the report in her story on another DNA crime lab run by the District Attorney’s Office.

Through that lab, the DA has been running a controversial "spit and acquit" program, where minor crimes are dismissed in exchange for a DNA sample.

Campbell’s main point was that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has the budget to worry about, and attempting to carve out the crime lab would be a distraction.

"If she [Sheriff Sandra Hutchens] has to figure out how to hand that off to somebody else, that’s a distraction. That’s why I’m opposed to doing it now," Campbell said. "When times were better, nice idea to think about. Now’s not the time to think about it."

Campbell also disagrees with Moorlach’s interpretation of the report. He said that, from his recollection, the report was specifically about DNA crime labs, and since the crime lab has other responsibilities, Moorlach’s argument falls apart.

But the National Academy of Sciences report doesn’t just focus on DNA science.

From Wood’s story:

"Scientific and medical assessment conducted in forensic investigations should be independent of law enforcement efforts either to prosecute criminal suspects or even to determine whether a criminal act has indeed been committed," said a 2009 Forensic Sciences report from the National Academy of Sciences.

"Administratively," the report added, "this means that forensic scientists should function independently of law enforcement administrators. The best science is conducted in a scientific setting as opposed to a law enforcement setting."

When pressed on the report’s broader recommendation that forensic science and law enforcement be separated, Campbell said the report’s theory doesn’t apply to Orange County because the Sheriff’s Department has never been implicated in meddling with forensic science.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

September 4

1995

The Orange County Business Journal was kind enough to print my response to a recent Letter to the Editor (see MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — August 22, 2010).  It was titled “Why I sent penalty notices signed ‘Citron.’”  It gave me a chance to explain the process to business owners.

                Thank you for publishing Sidney S. Tendler’s concerns about our unsecured property tax penalty working postcard (Aug. 21 Letters).  Allow me the opportunity to explain the procedures of the Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector’s department concerning this matter.

Between March 1 and June 30 we mailed out approximately 105,000 bills, which are due upon receipt and become delinquent after August 31.  If payment is not received by the end of the month mailed, a “reminder” postcard is issued.  However, the some 27,000 bills mailed in July do not receive such a post card.  After August 1, for remaining unpaid bills, we mail our “penalty warning” notices, of which a little over 17,000 were mailed.

Our reminders serve many purposes:

·         They remind many taxpayers who may have forgotten or set the bills aside.

·         They encourage taxpayers to contest assessments, when appropriate, allowing the county to correct any problems prior to the Aug. 31 deadline.

·         They remind taxpayers that there is an immediate penalty of 10% and additional monthly penalties of 1.5%.  (In prior years numerous taxpayers complained that they would have paid on time if they had been better informed about the consequences of a late payment.)

·         This practice, begun in 1990, resulted in an increase to our cash flow of 3% over prior years.  This allows the county to invest those payments sooner and pass on the interest earnings to your local municipalities.

We certainly do not mean to offend taxpayers by utilizing this approach.  In fact, it is no different in practice from most in the business world.  However, I will re-evaluate our wording and keep Mr. Tendler’s suggestions in mind for next year’s cycle.  We certainly do want to be the dedicated and considerate tax collectors that the public expects us to be.

For this cycle I elected to utilize all of the remaining printed materials in stock in order to save taxpayer dollars.  We will be using new postcards in September.  In the meantime, should you receive any correspondences with the former Treasurer-Tax Collector’s name, forgive us for any inconvenience or disruption that it may cause.

I did not want to add to the already record-breaking costs resulting from my predecessor’s actions.  Thanks for your patience and understanding.

John M. Moorlach

Orange County treasurer-tax collector

Santa Ana

2000

Pensions & Investments, in their “At Deadline” column, mentioned “Orange County seeks exec.”

                The $4 billion Orange County Employees Retirement System hired consultant DMG Maximus to assist in hiring a new administrator, said John M. W. Moorlach, county treasurer and investment board member.

                The full board is expected to interview finalists, Mr. Moorlach said, adding no time line has been established.

David Reyes of the LA Times had his take on the ballot measure campaign in “Rival Tobacco Measures Spur a Big-Bucks Battle – Now that a judge has refused to pull one of the initiatives off the ballot, the fund-raising is on.”  For those new to the Updates, the entire article will catch you up on this topic.

Supporters of competing Measures G and H on the county’s November ballot say their spending may top $1 million for radio, direct mail and perhaps TV ads to determine how $30 million a year in tobacco settlement funds is spent.

"The campaign is on," said Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector John Moorlach, who drafted Measure G, which would use 40% of the money to pay down the county’s bankruptcy debt, 42% for health care and 18% for jails.

The political battle was guaranteed last week when an Orange County Superior Court judge rejected the Board of Supervisor’s bid to remove Measure H from the Nov. 7 countywide ballot.

Measure H would spend no money on debt relief. It would direct 80% to health care and anti-tobacco programs, with the remaining 20% for law enforcement.

That initiative calls for spending 19% of the total on services to seniors and the disabled, including transportation, long-term care and in-home support; 23% on indigent care by emergency and on-call physicians; 12% on tobacco prevention and anti-addiction and mental health programs; 20% on community, mobile and hospital clinics; 6% for hospitals to cover uncompensated emergency and trauma care; and 20% on law enforcement, which could include jail construction.

Orange County is expected to receive $765 million over 25 years, its share of the state’s $21.3 billion from the settlement reached between major tobacco companies and state attorneys general around the nation.

Measure H, supported by a coalition, of health care advocates and a majority of the county’s elected officials in Sacramento and Washington, qualified for the ballot with 115,000 signatures.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors filed a court challenge to Measure H, saying it was unconstitutional because it would tie the hands of future boards of supervisors.

While they awaited a hearing, supervisors approved Moorlach’s initiative and designated it Measure G, which places it on the Nov. 7 ballot ahead of Measure H. The county has already begun using this year’s allotment, spending $38 million on debt reduction.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Jack K. Mandel refused to pull Measure H from the ballot, saying he did not want to set a precedent by voiding a ballot initiative before it reached voters.

The county’s powerful health care community, made up of physicians, hospitals and community clinics, already has collected $203,000, according to campaign fund reports filed in July. Supporters expect to raise $400,000 more to get across a clear message: Tobacco is harmful and most of the money from the settlement with tobacco companies–over health care costs due to lung cancer and other harm by tobacco products–should be used to cover health costs, not jails or debt.

Michele Revelle, executive director of the Orange County Medical Assn., said health care for low-income and uninsured patients is severely underfunded by the county, and that private hospitals and clinics bear the brunt of rising health costs.

She said the county shouldn’t look to the tobacco settlement windfall to pay down its debt.

"The county already has a plan to pay off their bankruptcy debt," Revelle said. "They bragged about it and they should stick to it. It’s working."

Putting more money into county health care is long overdue, she said, noting that in the 10 years ending in 1999, 14 hospitals in the county have closed, six with emergency rooms.

"This doesn’t affect just people who aren’t insured, but you and me and everybody. If emergency trauma centers continue to close, we’re all in trouble."

Many health care professionals also oppose Measure G because it creates an oversight committee with the authority to change the tobacco allocation.

"That committee would have no commitment to health care dollars," said Dr. J. Brennan Cassidy, immediate past president of the medical association.

Meanwhile, Measure G supporters are marshaling their forces. Moorlach said he has just begun fund-raising but has set a goal of $500,000.

He said he wants to win the support of residents who are still "very concerned about the bankruptcy debt" and who seek a blend of paying for debt and medical needs.

"Voting for Measure G is tantamount to paying your mortgage off early and saving on interest," Moorlach. "I think they’re going to lose the battle of common sense here. My research is showing that people really want to pay down this debt."

During his research, Moorlach said, he discovered that hospital giant Tenet Healthcare Corp. contributed $70,000 in support of Measure H, as reflected in campaign fund reports.

Moorlach noted that Tenet paid Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Barbakow $22.5 million last year, and almost $74 million in salary and options since he took the post seven years ago. The nation’s second-largest hospital chain owns, and operates Irvine Medical Center, Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Western Medical Centers in Anaheim and Santa Ana.

"Here’s a corporation that has grown fivefold to earn $302 million in profits and has a chief executive who earns millions," he said. "And the county has to help them and other hospitals?"

Cassidy responded: "Then why have 14 hospitals in Orange County closed?"

To show that the Measure G vs. H campaign was on, Rick Reiff included a mention in his “OC Insider” column in the Orange County Business Journal.  What made the column even more interesting was the second-half of its title:  “Dana Urges Arnold to Run.”  Remember, this is two years before Gray Davis’ re-election campaign and three years before our famous recall election.  I’ll provide both of the subjects from the column.

                . . . The Terminator vs. the Terminally Boring?  The Insider hears that Dana Rohrabacher is urging Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for California governor . . .

. . . It’s Marian Bergeson and Joe Dunn vs. Curt Pringle and John Moorlach to debate the county’s tobacco settlement initiatives at a luncheon Sept. 15 at the Irvine Hyatt Regency.  “Let’s get ready to rumble,” says lobbyist and event coordinator Randy Smith.  Paul Freeman will referee, er, moderate.

2005

The OC Register had a fun piece by Lynn Seeden that was titled “Central:  Shifting with the times – Where once stood Fountain Valley’s first school is now a senior center.”  I came a few minutes late and could not get into the grand opening of the new senior/community center.  The next day the Mayor of Fountain Valley, Larry Crandall, called me and teased me that he was not mentioned in the article, even though he was the Master of Ceremonies, but I was – even though I didn’t even get in!

                Nearly 800 people showed up at the afternoon grand opening, which was set for 300.  Firemen had to block the entrance and keep a large part of the crowd outside.  Even County Treasurer John Moorlach couldn’t get in.

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