MOORLACH UPDATE — Paperless Papers — January 10, 2011

When reporters contact me, I have to remind them that I am an accountant.  I am not an attorney.  I am a bean counter. 

The first piece below is from the Voice of OC.  The granting of retroactive benefits to the date of hire is unconscionable.  Granting those benefits to a date long before your date of hire is inconceivable.  This is what occurred in the city of Santa Ana (see http://www.voiceofoc.org/countywide/this_just_in/article_720dada8-17bd-11e0-8480-001cc4c002e0.html).  To me, without any obvious giveback by Mr. Fletcher, this is egregious at best and another classic pickpocketing of the taxpayers at worst.

The second piece below is from Patch.  Giving Los Alamitos the ability to provide policing services to Rossmoor should be done on a trial basis.  It will give the Rossmoor residents an opportunity to compare between the services they currently receive from the Orange County Sheriffs’ Department with that of the Los Alamitos Police Department, which is across the street.  Consequently, I enthusiastically endorse the idea of Los Alamitos patrolling Rossmoor for a year or more. 

On a different note, in this current climate, and beyond, every city in Orange County should analyze if maintaining their police department is cost effective.  This is the bean counter in me speaking.  The analysis may show that contracting with the County is a better overall fiscal deal since it includes the County’s hardware and equipment, like a helicopter.  Somehow, the reporter thought that this accountant gave her license to focus more on the cost analysis versus the trial performance opportunity.  Also, I don’t recall stating that using reserve funds “is ill-advised.”  My concern has always been with sustainability.  Reserves only last so long.

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Was Payout to Santa Ana City Attorney an Illegal Gift of Public Funds?

One of the questions swirling around former Santa Ana City Attorney Joe Fletcher’s nearly $200,000 sick and vacation leave payout is whether it should be considered an illegal gift of public funds.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach thinks so. And an argument in favor of Moorlach’s position can be found in the county’s lawsuit against the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs over retroactive pension benefits.

Fletcher, upon leaving the city’s employ at the end of last year, cashed out $191,699 in unused vacation and sick-leave pay. Fletcher was able to do this because of a contract amendment that backdated the accrual of his vacation pay and the carryover of his sick leave as though he’d been hired in 1983 — 13 years before his actual hire date in 1996, according to Santa Ana Councilman Sal Tinajero.

Fletcher’s situation has some similarities to the basis of the county’s 2008 pension benefit suit, which contends that a 2001 board decision to retroactively grant a 3 percent at age 50 benefit to deputy sheriffs violated the California Constitution.

Specifically, it violates a provision stating that a "local government body may not grant extra compensation or extra allowance to a public officer, public employee, or contractor after service has been rendered or a contract has been entered and performed in whole or in part," the suit claims.

The idea is idea that "you can’t be paid twice for doing the job once," Moorlach said. He called Fletcher’s payout "way beyond the pale."

Fletcher’s contract amendment that gave him retroactive status was made in 2002, six years into his tenure as city attorney.

"How do you negotiate something to a date where you weren’t even working?" Moorlach asked. "I don’t even know how you do that."

In the county’s legal battle, a trial court has already ruled in favor of the union. However, an appellate court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Jan. 19, Moorlach said.

Moorlach might be in the minority opinion regarding Fletcher’s payout.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said that, as long as the compensation has a valid public purpose, then even retroactive vacation and sick-leave benefits wouldn’t constitute a gift of public funds, which occurs when a governmental body gives away money without anything in return.

"It’s a case-by-case analysis — what becomes a gift of public funds or not," McGrath said.

Dave Mora, West Coast director for the International City/County Management Association, agreed with McGrath and said compensation for services can take a multitude of forms.

"It would be very difficult to try to describe that as a gift of public funds," Mora said. "In my mind you’re also saying that a person’s salary is a gift of public funds."

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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Police & Fire

Los Alamitos Should Consider Dumping Police Department, County Supervisor Says

Employing sheriff’s deputies would save the city money, John Moorlach says.

By Paige Austin

According to Second District County Supervisor John Moorlach, the city of Los Alamitos should consider disbanding its police department and contracting with the county for sheriff’s department services.

 With budget cuts slamming cities across the state, it makes sense to consider affordable options, said Moorlach. However, the suggestion is not likely to be embraced by city leaders.

 “Umm … no,” said Los Alamitos City Councilman Troy Edgar. “Usually, I would be politically ambiguous, and I would listen and keep our options open, but on this one: No.”

The city pays about $5.4 million a year for police services because residents are happy with the police department and they like paying for it, Edgar said.

 “I think Supervisor Moorlach has really good financial ideas, and I like that he puts everything out there for consideration,” added Edgar. “But at this point, our police department is held in pretty high regard by our residents.”

 However, in the current economy, cities throughout Orange County need to be making difficult and creative decisions to maintain solvency, said Moorlach.

 “This is something every city has got to look at,” he added.

 Around the county, cities have been increasingly tapping into reserve funds to get by in this economic downturn, said Moorlach. It is ill advised, he added.

Last month, Moorlach criticized the Orange County Sheriff’s Department response times in neighboring Rossmoor, suggesting that the community consider contracting with the Los Alamitos Police Department. The suggestion provoked members of the sheriff’s department as well as Rossmoor officials, who see it as a push to place Rossmoor under the control of Los Alamitos.

Recently, Moorlach said he “still believes in the sheriff’s department and its command staff,” but added that the residents of Rossmoor should consider contracting with the Los Alamitos Police Department for a period of time.

 “It gives the residents of Rossmoor a chance to compare,” said Moorlach. “The other alternative is that maybe the city of Los Alamitos can contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.”

 The sheriff’s department can offer advantages, such as a helicopter and other equipment, that most police departments just can’t afford, he said.

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