MOORLACH UPDATE — Quandary — October 21, 2013

The OC Register opines on the latest Internal Audit Department report of the Clerk-Recorders Office (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Clerk-Recorder — October 15, 2013). My gratitude goes out to appointed Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen for his efforts to address the unfortunate quandary that he inherited from his predecessor.

Clerks Office quandary

$6.8 million unaccounted for. Probe needed.

It would be almost comically ironic that a recent audit of the Orange County Clerk-Recorders Office, which records marriage licenses, property records and other public documents, cannot assess the propriety of $6.8 million in public fund expenditures because of insufficient record keeping. It would be, that is, if it werent so serious.

But, that is the conclusion of an audit, released this month, of two recent fiscal years under the stewardship of previous Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly. In all, the larger-than-average 77-page audit found 12 instances of what it described as critical control weaknesses and three instances of significant control weaknesses ranging from inadequate controls over setting and changing fees charged to the public via the automated cashiering system, and a lack of understanding of the importance for controlling and accounting for restricted monies and a lack of written policy governing the Fund 12D activities.

In his defense, Mr. Daly told the Register that everything was done according to county procedures, and interim Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen, who replaced Mr. Daly when the former took his seat in the state Assembly, was hopeful that his office could justify where all the funds went.

As Mr. Nguyens office is left to clean up the fallout, it has concurred with all the audit recommendations for better oversight and accounting controls. A good step, but one that makes us wonder if there really ever were proper procedures in place or if something has been wrong with the way business is done at the elected Clerk-Recorders Office for a long time.

Controversy, a lack of oversight and accusations of negligence are not new to the office. It should be remembered that reformer and longtime Clerk-Recorder Gary Granville replaced Lee Branch while the latter was embroiled in allegations of sexual harassment and mismanagement, even being censured by the Board of Supervisors for alleged misconduct while in office.

Im just in a quandary because there is so much [in the office] that isnt right, Supervisor John Moorlach told us.

A quandary we share, but one that must not further go uninvestigated.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

October 20

2003

In the OC Registers Political Datebook column, under Friday, is the following announcement:

County Treasurer-Tax Collector John Moorlach will speak at the 11:30 luncheon meeting of the Republican Club of Leisure World in Clubhouse 5, Laguna Woods.

October 21

1993

The Daily Pilot had the following announcement in Voucher Initiative forum set for Thursday:

The Costa Mesa Republican Assembly will present a forum on the much-debated Voucher Initiative at its Thursday meeting at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Center.

Speaking in favor of Proposition 174 will be Bob Hanson, while Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustee Forrest Warner will speak against the initiative which, if passed, would create an educational voucher system in California.

The 7:30 pm. Forum will be moderated by John Moorlach, president of the local assembly. For more, contact James Ure at 545-3762 or James Emerson at 957-0135.

2008

The fun in Rossmoor continued with a column by Dana Parsons of the LA Times, titled Conspiracy theories and cityhood Many residents cant figure out why the Orange County sheriffs deputies union is opposing Rossmoors push for cityhood. Others say the union has an ax to grind. From a strictly historical standpoint, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS) has always opposed incorporations and annexations of unincorporated islands. That is why I told those seeking to incorporate Rossmoor to hire a political consultant, raise funds and prepare for a major campaign. They did not implement the first two recommendations and when AOCDS put up lawn signs the very first day of the campaign, the pro-cityhood contingent was caught literally flat-footed (and, consequently, looking for excuses).

When it comes to conspiracy theories, count me in. I just wouldn’t have expected to find one in the unincorporated, quiet little bedroom community of Rossmoor.

But there’s a good one brewing in the enclave of roughly 10,500 people nestled between Seal Beach and Los Alamitos, where voters will decide in two weeks whether to become a city.

An apparently sizable number of locals favoring cityhood wonder why the union representing the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is so actively opposing them. Why did the association pay for a telephone survey of residents a few months ago and why has it continued to pay for mailers and signs and phone banks urging residents to vote against Measure U on Nov. 4?

Isn’t it obvious? The association opposes cityhood because that might end Rossmoor’s reliance on the Sheriff’s Department for patrolling the community. Once it attains cityhood, Rossmoor might decide to join with Seal Beach or Los Alamitos or create its own police force.

Ah, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t have a conspiracy theory.

Pro-incorporation leaders are convinced that the deputies association opposes them as part of a vendetta against Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach, in whose district Rossmoor lies and who has led the fight to rein in the costs of deputies’ pensions.

As the theory goes, whatever the union can do to upset Moorlach, it will do. The theory extends to the rest of the board, a majority of which apparently favors incorporation, as well.

Eric Christensen is co-chairman of the Rossmoor pro-cityhood group and a corporate attorney. He says the deputy association’s dislike of Moorlach and the other supervisors is the only motive that makes sense.

"The union, in my belief, is using us as a pawn in the fight against the board," Christensen says.

Association president Wayne Quint dismisses that accusation, saying the union has gotten involved several times in the last decade in annexations, incorporation and taxation issues. In Rossmoor’s case, residents will have to approve a utility tax as a condition for cityhood. The ballot will offer either a 7% or 9% option.

"I don’t see this tax being enough to enhance or improve public safety," Quint says, "and that’s why we oppose it."

Why not let Rossmoor voters worry about that? Why is that a political issue for deputies? Especially when Quint concedes he’s not saying that Rossmoor will be less safe if it incorporates, only that it won’t be more safe.

I couldn’t get Quint to say in simple language that he’s simply worried about losing a steady gig for his members in Rossmoor.

That’s why Christensen thinks Quint is taking out his pique at the supervisors (and especially Moorlach) on Rossmoor. He says Quint knows that Rossmoor leaders on both sides of the cityhood issue have crunched numbers and retaining the Sheriff’s Department as the community’s law enforcement agency makes the most fiscal sense.

So, what’s the union’s beef?

Simple, says Christensen. The vendetta theory.

The utility tax, while necessary for Rossmoor’s viability as a new city, would be one of several revenue sources. And when Quint says, "We believe to tax someone 7% or 9%, you should see a significant improvement in public safety," I roll my eyes a bit at his concern over how Rossmoor spends its money.

But is this really about Quint vs. Moorlach? Can I buy that theory?

Not completely, but Christensen knows how to make an argument.

"I know for a fact it’s not about public safety," he says, "because I know for a fact we’ll be a safer" as a city.

The vendetta theory is the only thing that makes sense, he says. "It’s completely illogical that the deputy sheriffs would not support us incorporating and contracting with them on a full-time contract basis. So the only thing I can assume is this relates in some way with the battle with the board, and the union is thinking somewhere in its mind that if they stick it to the board, it can only help them."

I asked Moorlach for his take. Talk about your party-poopers: He doubts that Quint’s motive is to sock it to either him or his fellow supervisors. Rather, Moorlach says, association officials are "basically trying to preserve their jobs. That’s what I would conclude. [Quint] is doing what a union head would do."

That might end things, except for a potentially ironic final act.

The union’s involvement has already alienated some in the community who might be on the first City Council if residents vote for cityhood. Christensen, who says he won’t be a candidate, says, "Nobody in Rossmoor was thinking about using anybody but the Sheriff’s Department on this. Until, of course, the union started funding all of this."

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