MOORLACH UPDATE — Begets an Editorial — June 20, 2013

Last week’s Board budget adventures detailed in the Voice of OC caught the attention of the OC Register’s Editorial Board. For a quick catch up, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Budget Hearing — June 12, 2013 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Begets — June 15, 2014.

Supervisors should share the budget pain

Their office budgets should not escape 5 percent across-the-board cut.

We were disappointed in the county Board of Supervisors for putting forward a budget that cuts 5 percent from nearly every department except their own offices. But, we are pleased to see that plan might change when it comes to a vote during a special meeting Monday.

The recommendation for across-the-board cuts follows the county’s $147 million setback over withheld property taxes that a Superior Court judge ruled should have gone to a state education fund.

During the meeting, Supervisors John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson pressed for the 5 percent reductions to their office budgets, but the move was not supported by the other three supervisors during their nonbinding straw vote.

"I abide by ‘no better no worse,’ and if I’m asking my department heads, I should, too," Mr. Moorlach told us. "I think it misses a leadership opportunity."

We agree, and feel the supervisors missed an opportunity to lead during a difficult financial time for the county. There likely will be other opportunities for the supervisors to make tough decisions about budget priorities, as pension liabilities continue to grow, and the state shifts more responsibilities onto local governments.

"Clearly when the board takes those kinds of actions they lose creditability with the department heads and employees," Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, told us.

Mr. Berardino said that he had already spoken with county staff who said they had lost respect for the board following the decision.

A loss of credibility with staff should be concerning for the board going forward.

Although the supervisors are elected by, and should primarily represent the interests of, the voters, in any organization, accruing goodwill from subordinates is a worthwhile strategy, when possible.

When those who serve under you believe you are acting in good faith, they are far more likely to stand with you during difficulty and show a willingness to make sacrifices. Especially on an issue that seemed like an easy win for the supervisors.

"A lot is read into our behavior and actions," Mr. Nelson told us of his support for the reduction. "I did what I felt was right. I just know, having been around leadership positions for a long, long time, it was the right thing."

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who has voluntarily cut his own budget in previous years, said, while supportive of the reduction, he also felt that mandating the cuts could make constituent services inflexible for other supervisors, who face varying challenges.

"There was no drama here because I was already going to do it," Mr. Spitzer told us. "I did it last year, and I’m doing it this year."

But, he said, after meetings with Gov. Brown over the recent legal decision, he will vote in favor of the mandatory reduction when it comes up for a vote.

"If I’m going to do it, I might as well codify it and it is important to the governor," Mr. Spitzer said. "I was trying to be accommodating to my colleagues."

We commend Mr. Nelson and Mr. Moorlach for taking a lead on this issue and Mr. Spitzer for the voluntary reductions his office has taken and for keeping an open mind in discussions with the governor over making the cuts mandatory for his office.

"Anytime someone makes a wrong decision and corrects it, they deserve credit," Mr. Berardino said upon hearing the news.

We agree and hope that the supervisors follow through on their pledge at Monday’s meeting and come more quickly to leadership and fiscal responsibility in future decisions.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

June 20

2008

Sandra Hutchens was appointed with the provision that she successfully pass the required medical and psychological tests. Consequently, she was not sworn in at the June 10 meeting. Not knowing how long the process would take, a public swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for the June 24 Board meeting. An offer was extended to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to swear her in earlier, after the successful conclusion of the tests, if she so desired. She did. The Board offices were invited to the meeting three days prior. Several of them sent representatives, including Supervisor Norby’s office. I had the pleasure, as Board Chair, to perform the swearing in. Judge Kirkwood was in the Hall of Administration for a Commission meeting and dropped into my office. I invited her to stay a few minutes in order to meet Ms. Hutchens and Judge Kirkwood stayed to attend the meeting. The OC Register put the story on their website shortly after the meeting occurred. It contained an error that was corrected after I e-mailed the reporter. The LA Times must have prepared their story from the erroneous posting. The OC Register’s piece, by Peggy Lowe, was titled “New sheriff sworn in during private meeting – Sandra Hutchens, first female sheriff of O.C., wants to get started on job before official ceremony Tuesday, supervisor says.”

Sandra Hutchens, appointed sheriff last week, was sworn in Thursday during a private meeting that was kept secret from the public.

Supervisor John Moorlach, who was the only board member at the 10:15 a.m. ceremony, said he offered Hutchens a chance to do an early swearing-in so she could get to work and she took him up on it.

"In Europe, you get married twice – you go to the courthouse and get all the documents taken care of and then you go to the ceremony," Moorlach said. "We swore her in so she can get working."

A Sheriff’s Department spokesman said Hutchens wanted to get to work on department business and referred all further inquiries to the Board of Supervisors.

"I think the idea is there are things she wanted to get done and wanted to get started," said John McDonald, a sheriff’s spokesman.

The private swearing-in took place at the county’s Hall of Administration and was done by Moorlach. Hutchens is still scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday during a large public ceremony at the Old Courthouse in Santa Ana.

In addition to Moorlach, those attending Thursday’s event included county Chief Executive Officer Tom Mauk, a member of Supervisor Pat Bates’ staff, two members of Moorlach’s staff and Matt Brady, a former member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who is assisting Hutchens. Orange County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kirkwood, who will perform the ceremony on Tuesday, was also there. Hutchens’ husband, Larry, didn’t attend, Moorlach said.

The move seemed to surprise supervisors, who were notified by an e-mail from Moorlach’s office. It was not considered a violation of the Brown Act, which requires public notification of any event where a quorum of public officials is meeting.

Supervisor Chris Norby, who didn’t vote for Hutchens, said it’s understandable that Hutchens would want to get to work. However, now that she’s already been sworn in, he questioned the need for another ceremony on Tuesday.

"She has the job, she is the sheriff and I’d think she would want to get down to doing the job as soon as possible," Norby said.

Hutchens, 53, was appointed sheriff in a split 3-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors on June 10. She beat out Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, who was one of the two final candidates, and 46 others to become the first female sheriff of Orange County.

A Dana Point resident, Hutchens worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for 27 years, working her way up through the ranks after starting as a secretary in 1976. She retired in March 2007 as a division chief.

Hutchens promised supervisors to do an exhaustive audit of the department and report back to the board within 120 days. She has already hired John Scott, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s division chief, as a consultant to study Orange County’s jails. She is also considering hiring a consultant group made up of former members of the state corrections board, she said.

The public ceremony is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday. Sycamore Street will be blocked off between Civic Center Drive and Santa Ana Boulevard to accommodate the many media outlets expected to cover the event. County officials are preparing for a crowd of 1,000.

Hutchens will serve out the remainder of former Sheriff Mike Carona’s term, which runs through 2010. Carona resigned in January to focus on his federal public corruption trial. He stands accused of getting elected sheriff just to enrich himself and his friends by accepting bribes for favors.

Christine Hanley of the LA Times provided the story in “Hutchens sworn in as Orange County sheriff – She takes the oath in a private ceremony. A public swearing-in is planned for next week.”

Sandra Hutchens was quietly sworn in Thursday as sheriff of Orange County during a small, private ceremony. A public swearing-in ceremony is planned for next week.

Hutchens, the 12th sheriff in the county’s history, has been eager to begin rebuilding a department tarnished by federal corruption charges against former Sheriff Michael S. Carona and a series of other scandals. But she could not officially take over until results of psychological and medical tests were complete.

"That’s why she was sworn in today, because [the results] have come in," department spokesman John McDonald said. "She passed the psych the day she took it. For the medical, they had to wait for some lab results."

Orange County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kirkwood performed the ceremony at the office of the clerk of the board. Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach was the only supervisor to attend.

On Tuesday, a ceremonial swearing-in will be held at the Old Courthouse in Santa Ana.

Hutchens, 53, was appointed sheriff last week in a 3-2 vote by county supervisors, punctuating an unprecedented process that was set in motion in January, when Carona resigned to fight charges that he misused his office to enrich himself and others, including his wife and former mistress.

Hutchens was chosen over Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, the other finalist from a national pool of about 40 candidates. When she applied to replace Carona, Hutchens was barely a year into retirement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where she had risen through the ranks from secretary to division commander.

Hutchens will serve the balance of Carona’s third term, which ends in 2010. She plans to run for sheriff in the next election.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Los Angeles Daily Breeze provided the wire story with “New OC sheriff is sworn in.”

Orange County’s first female sheriff took her oath of office Thursday so she could get down to work.

Sandra Hutchens, 53, of Dana Point, who retired last year as a division chief from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, is also the first person appointed rather than elected sheriff since the department’s inception in 1889.

"We got together, she placed her hand on the Bible and I gave the oath so she can be the sheriff now," said county Board of Supervisors Chair John Moorlach, who administered the oath during a brief ceremony in the Hall of Administration in Santa Ana. "She did tell me she had a lot of meetings today, so why not do it with some authority."

A formal swearing-in ceremony that is expected to draw about 1,000 people is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday in front of the Old County Courthouse at Broadway and Santa Ana Boulevard.

Hutchens spent part of the afternoon in a command staff meeting of all captains and assistant sheriffs, said the department’s Jim Amormino.

"It’s a bit awkward when you’re kind of the sheriff but you’re not exactly the sheriff." she noted.

"So they wanted to facilitate my ability to start getting things done, which is what I said I would do," Hutchens told KNX.

She said two looming issues are overtime payments to deputies and jail security.

"I want to start the jail audit of all five of our county jails and so now I can begin the process of doing that," she said. "Also, we’re looking, of course, at the overtime issues that have been brought to light. We’re going to work on reducing that overtime and managing that better."

Hutchens said she spoke with jail operations staff this morning.

"We’re busy, we’re getting things done we needed," she said. "It makes a difference if I’m the official sheriff instead of the sheriff appointed."

Hutchens’ appointment had been conditional, pending the completion of medical and psychological tests done under the requirements of state law. "And so all of that has been completed," she said.

One of the first issues Hutchens will face is opening records to a performance auditor for an in-depth study on soaring overtime costs, Moorlach said.

It was recently reported that overtime increased the pay of 102 deputies by more than $150,000 last year.

Moorlach said the board will try to determine if it would be more cost-effective to continue using deputies on an overtime basis to fill vacant positions, or hiring additional personnel.

Another pressing issue is the Orange County Jail system.

A grand jury probe into the beating death of a computer technician, who was awaiting trial on child pornography possession charges, at the hands of other inmates, found that guards watched television, played computer games, slept and text-messaged friends while they were supposed to be watching inmates and patrolling the floors.

Hutchens replaces former Sheriff Michael Carona, who resigned in January after he, his wife, Deborah and attorney Debra Hoffman were indicted on public corruption charges. Trial is set for August.

R. Scott Moxley of the OC WEEKLY jumped in to fray with “Meet the New Sheriff . . . – Taking a wait-and-see stance toward OC’s new top cop.” Moxley had spent the years prior becoming an expert and aggressive critic of former Sheriff Mike Carona.

If any image survives June 10’s startling appointment of Sandra Hutchens as Orange County’s next sheriff, it won’t be the deer-in-the-headlights gaze of Supervisor Chris Norby, who seemed more surprised than anyone else that his choice, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, got nixed. It won’t even be KCAL images of the tears that formed in Walters’ eyes moments after board Chairman John Moorlach announced the 3-2 vote. It will be Jebb HarrisOrange County Register photograph of the jubilant retired Los Angeles County Sheriff‘s chief learning of her victory. Why? I’ll tell you in a moment.

First, it’s critical to remind folks that grabbing the reins of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is powerfully intoxicating. The mere anticipation of taking over California’s second-largest police agency made a grown man—a veteran cop in his 60s, no less—tear up. But unlike Mike Carona, our FBI-indicted ex-sheriff who cried on cue once television camera crews arrived, Walters’ tears were genuine. He’s now nearly captured the job twice, having barely lost to Carona in the 1998 election.

Walters’ supporters reacted to Hutchens’ appointment with near-anger, perhaps because they felt blind-sided that their choice, conventional wisdom’s front-runner in the weeks leading up to the vote, lost. Folks such as Matt Cunningham at the Red County blog and Steven Greenhut at the Register complained that a female cabal pressured the two female county supervisors to join Moorlach in a vote for who they felt was the lesser-qualified, female candidate.

The truth is that both candidates used whatever resources they could muster behind-the-scenes to win. Indeed, Walters hired the lobbying duo of John Lewis and Matt Holder, two oily Republican insiders from Carona’s old camp. Although Walters has a solid record of accomplishment, the move probably helped to secure the votes of supervisors Bill Campbell and Norby, who also rely on Lewis and Holder for campaign consulting. But for many of us, that Carona tie was reason for alarm.

Nevertheless, unlike some of my brethren in the local media, I’m neither cheering nor booing the Hutchens selection. Here are three reasons why:

.Serving as OC sheriff exacerbates tragic personal flaws, as proven by the last two occupants of the office.

.Praise (or the lack of it) has to be earned by good deeds, not cheap promises—we got plenty of those from Carona, too.

.We really know very little about our new sheriff.

For example, on the day of her appointment, we learned, thanks to Christine Hanley at the Los Angeles Times, that Hutchens was the central figure in a 1980 lethal-force scandal that left one drunken man dead, two innocent bystanders with bullet wounds and cost taxpayers $1.4 million. According to Anything But Mexican author Rodolfo F. Acuna, then-Deputy Hutchens (and her partner, David Anderson) disobeyed an order to call for backup when investigating celebratory New Year’s Eve gunshots. Instead, the two deputies confronted on their own a large family after such a shooting. The pair fired nine gunshots into the family’s garage, killing Jildardo Plasencia, who had been holding an empty gun. They also wounded an 18-year-old man and a 3-year-old boy.

"When you take somebody’s life, I don’t care who they are, you live with it forever," Hutchens told Hanley.

In his 1995 book, Acuna claims attorney Samuel Paz, who conducted his own probe, proved that authorities covered up evidence that Hutchens fabricated portions of her story as an excuse for using lethal force when she had, Acuna wrote, "blindly shot into the garage." An internal investigation cleared her of wrongdoing, and LA prosecutors refused to file charges. But several years later, after Paz’s investigation, a jury awarded the dead man’s family $1.4 million in damages from county coffers.

Messages for Hutchens left at a telephone number provided by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department source were not returned.

It’d be unfair to give too much weight now to the Plasencia killing. By all accounts, Hutchens went on to have an exemplary, multidecade career. Even better: On the cusp of the greatest challenge of her life, she seems to be not just emotionally grounded, but also intolerant of dishonesty and laziness.

But we’ve been fooled before—which brings me back to Carona, a glorified bailiff turned OC’s top cop, who packaged his corruption in smiles, hugs and warm handshakes. Here was a lawman who believed he was so immune from accountability that he willingly accepted a campaign contribution from a longtime Mafia associate, and then partied with the guy at a swank Newport Beach restaurant. Perhaps most revealing, here was a man who used the horrific kidnapping, rape and murder of a little girl for political purposes.

Of course, Carona, who is scheduled later this year to face a federal trial for operating a bribery scam, couldn’t have created his mess without help. He had obsequious friends in the media. But he also surrounded himself in and outside the department with morons, degenerates and sycophants.

So how many of you know which characters are lurking in Hutchens’ inner circle?

Back to the noteworthy Register photograph I mentioned: At the historic June 10 board hearing, Hutchens was seated with her hands placed together, prayer-like, in front of her chest. She had cracked a slight smile as if humbled by events.

But there was a hand gripping her left shoulder. Follow the arm past the expensive watch and the cuff links, and you’ll find the face of Ronald Cedillos. When Hutchens stood to accept the vote, Cedillos—the man who’d been working behind the scenes for her selection, especially with Supervisor Pat Bates—was the first person she hugged.

For those of you who don’t know, Cedillos was one of Carona’s early vocal supporters. The wealthy businessman and well-connected GOP activist hobnobbed with Carona and his now-convicted former assistant sheriffs George Jaramillo and Don Haidl. Indeed, Cedillos turned his impressive Laguna Niguel estate into an off-duty personal playground for the trio. There’s a good chance his name will surface during Carona’s federal trial.

The Hutchens-Cedillos relationship, however, could mean nothing. Cedillos may have entirely honorable intentions in renewing his access to the most powerful cop in OC. After all, he’s never been tied to Carona’s alleged criminal conduct, and, Cedillos tells me, their relationship ended poorly.

Still, as some Cedillos critics suggest, the relationship could signal the beginning of the end of our new sheriff’s honeymoon.

To give Moxley’s topic some balance, OC Register columnist Frank Mickadeit weighed in with “Critics aside, Cedillos’ touch works.”

Part III: The Man Behind the Sheriff. Previously: Laguna Niguel businessman Ron Cedillos helps Mike Carona get elected in 1998 but the two have a falling out. Cedillos swears he wants nothing more to do with the Sheriff’s Department. Last month, though, Cedillos changes his mind when a business partner, former L.A. Undersheriff Bill Stonich, introduces him to Sandra Hutchens.

Once Ron Cedillos decided he was all in with Sandra Hutchens, he had to figure out what to do.

His first call was to his political running mate of sorts, Mario Rodriguez, who immediately tapped one of his networks: the California Women’s Leadership Association, specifically its president, Julie Vandermost. The CWLA grew up around some of South County’s strongest women leaders: Pat Bates and Mimi Walters, among others.

The organization itself didn’t have time to rally behind Hutchens, but Vandermost and several others in it took on the fight as individuals. Key was getting Supervisor Bates to really take a long look at Hutchens and for her to realize the broad political support she had. Of the nine sheriff semifinalists, Hutchens at that point ranked in the second tier in terms of access and familiarity to county supervisors.

Also key was Supervisor Janet Nguyen. Enter Cedillos’ relationship with heavyweight Sacramento consultant Dave Gilliard, who he knew from his Pete Wilson association and who he’d introduced to Bates years before. Gilliard worked for Nguyen too. Cedillos asked Gilliard to ask her to take a hard look at Hutchens.

Cedillos played another card. He had backed Lt. Bill Hunt when Hunt challenged Carona in 2006. Hunt had always said he was more interested in having a very good, honest sheriff than actually being sheriff himself. Hunt wasn’t going to get selected, Cedillos and Hunt both knew, but he could help Hutchens through his many contacts in and outside the department.

Cedillos got Hunt on board. (And, indeed, on the night Hutchens was picked, Hunt and his wife were among the handful of Hutchens backers invited to Cedillos’ home to celebrate.)

Cedillos also called me. Would I just "have coffee with Sandi?" he asked. Cedillos is a good friend. If he asks me to have coffee with someone, I’ll do it based on that alone. But no promises about any write-up. As it turned out, I was as impressed with Hutchens as everyone else was, and I couldn’t ignore that it seemed she was being ignored. So I wrote a column about her.

The combination of these efforts was having an effect. When the supervisors narrowed the field to two, it was Hutchens, along with the prohibitive favorite, Paul Walters. At that point, I predicted Nguyen, Bates and Chairman John Moorlach would vote for Hutchens, giving her the majority. (Moorlach had already tipped his hand by not even picking Walters as a finalist.)

Unbeknownst to me, however, both Bates and Nguyen were still very unsure. Cedillos talked to Bates again. She "was insistent on maintaining an equal interviewing process for all of the candidates," Cedillos recalls, and refused to meet with Hutchens. But she did hear out Cedillos, the CWLA leaders and others.

The weekend before last Tuesday’s vote, a weary and frantic Cedillos told me he was working every angle: "We’re going to keep firing until we run out of bullets." You know how it turned out.

In the aftermath, a lot of stuff was raised by Cedillos’ old political enemies – as well as by people rightly concerned about appearances – regarding his former ties to Carona and the fact Cedillos is in the prison-building business. Another business partner of his is former Sacramento Sheriff Lou Blanas, whose own jail practices were criticized.

Did the new sheriff really want a guy like Cedillos in her kitchen cabinet?

Cedillos expected the blowback. He doesn’t know what kind of ongoing relationship he’ll have with Hutchens, if any. But he’s told me unequivocally: His company will do no business with the Sheriff’s Department. Also: "I told Sandra I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to assist another candidate in 2010 if she wasn’t getting the job done."

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