Welcome back! I hope you had as relaxing a Memorial Day weekend as I did. Instead of driving home last night, we got up very early and drove home this morning. I’m a little tired. You’ll notice it in the next paragraph.
This week’s edition of the Orange County Business Journal finds me in Rick Reiff’s OC Insider column concerning a recent return trip from Sacramento. Speaking of flights, my Southwest flight to Sacramento for this afternoon has been cancelled. The Southwest website says the flight is “sold out.” I guess selecting the least expensive ticket only makes you a target for bumping (so much for trying to save the taxpayers a few dollars). I now get to take Southwest’s last flight out tonight for two long days of meetings. If you have any tips on how to avoid this from happening in the future, please let me know. Should I have requested my boarding pass earlier in the day from Southwest’s website? I usually get it after I arrive at the airport. Is this a ritual I need to modify? Who would think that Southwest would be so rude as to overbook and drop previously scheduled customers? What happened to Southwest’s “servant leadership” model? Let’s hope that “sold out” was a typo. Argh! And I needed to nap on the earlier flight.
The lead editorial in Sunday’s OC Register addressed the recently released Human Resources Report by the County’s Office of Performance Audit.
On Monday, the Voice of OC provided a Memorial Day piece focusing on homeless veterans. In my discussion with the reporter, I tried to emphasize that the County should be working with all of the homeless to mainstream them, including veterans and, should it be the case, reporters. The article provides a good update on the status of services available to homeless veterans. One correction: It’s Karen Roper, not Roeper.
ORANGE COUNTY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Hollywood South: Jannard’s Hot Camera, MacGillivray’s ‘One Ocean’ Campaign
By Rick Reiff
Chance encounter: OC Supe John Moorlach, who has been skeptical that the state’s proposed sale of the OC Fair & Event Center can pencil out, and businessman Guy Lemmon, who represents the Fait family that wants to buy it, found themselves seated next to each other on a Southwest flight returning from Sacramento. It worked out well for Lemmon. “I feel a little bit better about them taking over and taking care of the fair,” Moorlach says. Still to be heard from on the controversial sale plan is the state Court of Appeal and Gov. Jerry Brown (see Viewpoint, page 47) …
Editorial: OC supervisors need to clean up HR mess
A new audit of the Orange County Human Resources department uncovered a slew of new improprieties, including pay raises, promotions and the overlooking of state and local rules for such decisions. Many of the pay raises and promotions benefitted employees in the offices of the county chief executive.
The new revelations are troubling, and the county Board of Supervisors ought to take swift action to correct them, while at the same time dealing with the county executives who allowed the improprieties to occur.
Register reporter Kimberly Edds wrote about the scathing report released by the county’s performance auditor. The report showed that the county HR department has been mismanaged, making the cost of county government more expensive. The auditors asserted that reforming the county HR department could save the county $149.3 million.
Among the findings, auditors uncovered the following:
•HR staff did not properly review or question raises proposed by the county CEO’s office;
•The Human Resources Department violated county rules when permanently promoting employees into temporary classified positions;
•75 cases where rules for giving promotions were violated, 20 of which benefitted the CEO’s office;
•In one instance, an HR employee reviewed and recommended his own pay raise.
Numerous other violations and bending of rules were found.
This report should be frustrating to county taxpayers but also is incredibly eye-opening. Some good may result if it motivates the supervisors to aggressively reform the way the county operates.
Comments from Supervisor John Moorlach’s are encouraging. He said he wants to consider outsourcing the entire HR department. That’s a start but more work needs to be done.
Supervisors must hold accountable the county executives and managers who benefitted – directly or indirectly – from the abuses. That ought to include county CEO Tom Mauk, who should ultimately take responsibility for failings at the county, especially of this sort and magnitude.
And, while we don’t always agree with Nick Berardino, head of the Orange County Employees Association, he was spot on when he said the raises and promotions in question should be rescinded and re-evaluated by a third party.
Compensation abuses are a consistent problem at all levels of government. Now is an opportune time for county supervisors to act decisively and clean up the mess.
Options Limited for Orange County Veterans in Need
Being a needy military veteran is rough.
The scars of war — both physical and invisible — have crippled many veterans’ ability to cope, feed their families and just plain survive.
It’s especially rough in Orange County.
While the county has its channels of help, it doesn’t have basic resources other counties have, such as Veterans Affairs hospitals and homeless shelters.
"There’s a huge need, and the need is not met," said Karen Roeper, director of Orange County Community Resources.
The situation is particularly bleak for the county’s 3,500 homeless veterans. They suffer not only from a lack of local resources but from the federal government’s misconception that Orange County is an enclave within Los Angeles County, said Deanne Tate, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization Veterans First.
In fact, Tate said, Orange County was forgotten when federal funding for veterans-only housing vouchers was dolled out in 2008. Officials at the Housing and Urban Development Department expected Long Beach to share its vouchers with Orange County, but that never happened, Tate said.
"Unfortunately we’re Orange County. We’re the stepchild," Tate said. "Every time I write a grant, I have to put a disclaimer at the bottom of the grant that says, ‘This is Orange County. This is not Los Angeles or San Diego.’"
Roeper said Orange County didn’t receive the housing vouchers from HUD in 2008 because HUD didn’t notify county officials that the vouchers were available.
Eligible veterans are now referred to the county’s Veterans Service Office for voucher assistance through a partnership with the VA hospital in Long Beach, Roeper said. Recently the county received 220 housing vouchers that only low-income veterans are eligible to receive, she said.
County supervisors say they have made fighting homelessness a high priority, but they hesitate to give homeless veterans special treatment.
"There should be a motto of no better, no worse. Why would I treat veterans any differently than a homeless ex-reporter?" Moorlach said.
While homelessness remains an acute problem, veterans also turn to the county for help with medical issues. Workers in the Veterans Service Office spend much of their time helping veterans file complicated forms that the VA requires for medical claims. That process can be so difficult, Roeper said, that in one case it took 10 years to get a veteran his due compensation.
In other cases, the county office try to match veterans with services they could be eligible for, including treatment under the U.S. Mental Health Services Act and job help through "one stop" employment centers, Roeper said.
The office also obtains nonemergency medical transportation for veterans through the county Office on Aging. The service, available to all senior citizens, regularly transports veterans to the VA hospital in Long Beach.
"We do what we can to provide the best quality of life for our veterans," Roeper said.
Outside of county government, Veterans First is the only organization in Orange County that works specifically with veterans, Tate said.
Veterans First temporarily houses homeless veterans and provides assistance like employment training and other services to help them rebuild their lives. But with a budget of $1.4 million and just 84 beds set aside for homeless veterans, Veterans First is meeting a small portion of the need.
The shortage of beds for veterans is shocking, Tate said. "It’s really hard to tell someone we don’t have a bed for them. There’s no reason for it."
Tate hopes bed availability will improve soon. The organization is trying to raise funds for a larger shelter that could house "a couple hundred" homeless veterans each night, Tate said. She expects the shelter to open in July.
More information about assistance provided by the county’s Veterans Service Office can be found here.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
Jean O. Pasco of the LA Times provided an update on my campaign for OC Supervisor in “Race’s Crux: Fiscal Stance: Supervisor candidate John M. W. Moorlach is sounding an alarm over pension obligations. His opponent sees the issue differently.” Here it is in full:
Few people paid attention to John M.W. Moorlach in 1994 when, as a candidate for Orange County treasurer, he warned that the longtime incumbent’s risky investments could cost the county millions of dollars.
Moorlach lost the race but won the argument.
In December 1994, the county declared the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history, posting investment losses of $1.7 billion.
Now, Moorlach, the current treasurer, is at it again, this time issuing dire fiscal warnings as a candidate for county supervisor. He says the Board of Supervisors has obligated taxpayers to future employee pension payments the county can’t afford — a liability he says could lead to another bankruptcy.
Moorlach is opposed in the June 6 primary by David Shawver, a Stanton councilman and Long Beach high school teacher who emerged as a candidate just two days before the filing deadline.
Shawver has never run for countywide office but is getting support from government employee groups angered by Moorlach’s attack on their pension deals.
Shawver’s first three campaign mailers were paid for by the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
The Orange County Employees Assn. last month asked all members to allocate $10 from their dues to support Shawver.
Union chief Nick Berardino called Moorlach "the biggest threat in the county to employees’ personal financial security."
Shawver says Moorlach has been a good county treasurer, but says just because he was right about the county’s investments 12 years ago doesn’t mean he’s right about today’s pension obligations.
"I just don’t know what his leadership qualities are," said Shawver, who has sat on several regional boards as a 16-year member of the Stanton City Council.
He said Moorlach unnecessarily alienated the county’s employee unions by blaming them for benefits approved by the board.
"How are you going to sit down with these folks and solve the problem when you’ve been beating them up?" Shawver asked.
Moorlach said he was willing to take a $30,000-a-year pay cut — the difference between his treasurer salary and that of a supervisor — to become one of the five board members who set policy.
"I bring an element of leadership where I can connect people to get things done," he said.
"I think I can serve the county better at this point as a supervisor."
Moorlach has long predicted problems with the county’s pension obligations and a looming bill for healthcare benefits for retirees.
In 2004, he urged supervisors to reject a sweetening of pension benefits for most employees by 62%, which also allowed retirement at 55 rather than 62.
That vote came after the board had drastically improved retirement benefits for public safety employees, who can now retire at 50 with 3% of their salary for every year of service.
Those moves left the county’s pension fund about $2 billion short of what’s needed to cover promises made to current employees over 30 years.
Anticipated medical payments to retirees add $1.4 billion to the shortfall.
"The supervisors said, ‘Let’s just kick this bill to someone else and let our kids pay for it,’ " Moorlach said.
But allowing police and firefighters to retire with guaranteed pay at 50 after ending dangerous careers is the right thing to do, Shawver said.
"Aren’t we obligated to take care of them when they’re older because of the service they provided?" he asked.
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