MOORLACH UPDATE — Puzzling — August 6, 2014

August 5th was the Quasquicentennial of the first Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting. We threw a small party. The reception started at 8:30 a.m. Our guest speaker was local historian, Phil Brigandi, who provided a brief account on the twenty years of political effort to have Orange County officially split off from Los Angeles County. Thanks to all those who were able to attend.

Supervisor Spitzer requested that no County funds be used for the reception (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Quasquicentennial — December 24, 2013), so I underwrote yesterday morning’s event. On a number of occasions, Supervisor Spitzer has also vocalized his opposition to requests for the Board to approve items retroactively. We are all frustrated when someone makes a decision and then brings it to the Board for ratification, versus obtaining Board approval to authorize the decision first. In April of last year, Supervisor Spitzer wanted to establish a Crime Victims Memorial and assured his colleagues that no public funds would be expended. I was left with the impression that funds would be raised for a capital campaign and the only public funds involved would be the donation of the land and the related future landscaping and maintenance of the site. That did not appear to be the case and, although a method was found to pay for some of the preliminary activities, it was still being paid for with public funds. The Voice of OC covers this matter, which was item number 16 on the Board’s agenda, in the first piece below.

In the second piece below, the Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch covers remarks that Supervisor Spitzer made at the conclusion of yesterday’s Board meeting under the section titled “Board Comments.” I tried to explain to the reporter that during the Great Recession, nearly one-half of the County’s net-county-cost budget is now dedicated to public safety. Every department has had to do more with less. But, the non-public safety departments have made more significant budget cuts in order to fund the public safety agencies. Economic cycles happen and the County of Orange, with the aid of its department heads and employees, did a great job of downsizing in this most recent downturn. On the tragic Seal Beach mass killing see MOORLACH UPDATE — Seal Beach Response — October 16, 2011.

The third piece is from the OC Register and covers the Grand Jury’s report on John Wayne Airport (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Mil-Walkie — July 7, 2014). It’s not too often when my name is misspelled in the media. I think the unanimous reaction to the report can be summed up in the word “puzzling.”

BONUS: The Airport Land Use Commission for Orange County has three vacancies. If you are interested in being appointed to this position, please review the details at Bob.Wilson.

Spitzer Called Out by Moorlach Over Pay to Consultant

By HAROLD PIERCE and NICK GERDA, writer

County supervisors Todd Spitzer (left) and John Moorlach (right). (Photos by: Nick Gerda and Violeta Vaqueiro)

County Supervisor Todd Spitzer was challenged Tuesday by fellow Supervisor John Moorlach over a $25,000 contract given to Spitzer’s campaign consultant for work on a crime victims memorial that Spitzer had indicated would receive no taxpayer dollars.

The issue came up as Spitzer asked supervisors to retroactively approve the contract with the public relations firm Communications Lab, owned by his campaign consultant, Arianna Barrios.

"I asked you [Spitzer] specifically … and you said ‘we have to raise money and that’s all going to be done privately,’ no taxpayer dollars," Moorlach said.

"For construction," Spitzer said.

"That didn’t seem to be the suggestion. I’m having difficulty with how this is being handled," said Moorlach.

County Auditor Controller Jan Grimes withheld payment to Barrios who was hired by the county under questionable circumstances to spearhead a $25,000 public relations blitz in April for the unveiling of a victims memorial at Mason Regional Park in Irvine.

With the auditor blocking payment, Spitzer brought the $25,000 bill to the board of supervisors.

He said he takes responsibility for the "hiccup."

"I feel a responsibility to fix it," said Spitzer, adding the design competition, which was largely organized by Barrios, brought international attention to Orange County.

A Voice of OC review of internal county documents showed county parks staff objected strongly when they were inundated by requests from Spitzer’s office for unauthorized arrangements and excessive preparations for the April event.

The event was authorized a year earlier by supervisors – with the express mention that public resources wouldn’t be spent on one supervisor’s pet project.

A staff report for the item in April 2013 noted there would be no financial impact from the memorial construction. According to the report, even staff time to organize the event would be "minor," mainly depending on OC Parks and Spitzer’s staff to get announcements out and process design applications.

That didn’t turn out to be the case.

Documents indicate county staffers who work for Spitzer – who also represents crime victims as a private attorney – also apparently were advocating to parks staff that his campaign consulting firm – Barrios’ Communications Lab – be paid to engage in fundraising activities for the event.

Following internal pushback and news coverage of the issue, Spitzer on Tuesday said he planned to pay for the contract out of his county office budget – instead of OC Parks funds or his campaign account.

As a county supervisor, Spitzer has authority to approve contracts from his office budget up to $25,000.

But, as Moorlach pointed out, those are still public dollars.

"I was assured there would be no public funds used for this project. That was my understanding," said Moorlach. "I’m having a little heartburn with that."

Moorlach wanted his colleagues to instead approve the contract payment as a "loan" to whatever nonprofit organization ends up fundraising for the park. The $25,000 would be reimbursed to the county after private funds are raised.

His idea failed to gain traction with Spitzer or with supervisors Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen. Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson was absent from the meeting.

"It was a timing issue. And we’ve all been in that situation, so I’m frankly glad that you moved on it" so we could get that attendance at the April event, Bates told Spitzer.

"Thank you for coming out front and owning the issue," Nguyen told Spitzer.

Supervisors’ penchant for using county agencies for their own political purposes has created friction within the county bureaucracy for years. County human resources in 2013 had to establish a policy to stop questionable transfers of political aides into county agencies.

Nguyen came under fire in 2012 for her coordination with county agencies – such as Social Services and the Sheriff’s Department – on events in the First District with reports that signs at such events didn’t highlight the agency but instead touted Nguyen.

Bates also came under fire for questionable staff transfers from her office into the county bureaucracy as well as efforts by her office to influence enforcement of the county’s sex offender park ban near Dana Point Harbor.

On Tuesday, the supervisors ultimately voted 4-0 to remove the request that they authorize the Barrios contract, with the understanding that Spitzer would use his office budget to pay for it. They also approved a design for the victims’ memorial.

A directive was also given to county staff to talk to local nonprofits – particularly the Orange County Community Foundation – about managing the park’s design, fundraising, construction and maintenance.

It remains to be seen who will take responsibility for maintaining the memorial.

"I don’t want to create another Civic Center situation with the plaques," Spitzer said, referring to the long-neglected Orange County Walk of Honor just outside the supervisors’ offices in the county Civic Center.

Local veterans advocates became so disgusted with the state of the plaques they recently took it on themselves to clean the memorial wall.

Separate from the Barrios contract, supervisors praised the final design of the victims’ memorial.

"I see this as a spiritual resource in our community," said Bates.

Of the winning design, Spitzer said "it’s a beautiful, beautiful statement I think. And I think the crime victims are just overwhelmed."

"It’s embracing. It’s like a blanket around someone’s shoulders."

The discussion also prompted most of the supervisors to recall their own experiences as crime victims.

Moorlach said he was robbed at gunpoint twice in the 1970s while working at the Trojan drive-thru dairy in Cypress. A few days later, three other employees in Hawaiian Gardens were killed and left in a refrigerator, he said.

"We were very, very fortunate to not have been killed," said Moorlach.

Nguyen said she was robbed at gunpoint in her San Bernardino County home as a teenager.

"Unfortunately the gun was right to my head" when she tried to activate an alarm, Nguyen said.

Bates said her sister and brother-in-law were lost in "a very tragic domestic violence issue."

"When you lose somebody in a violent action, a homicide like that…the pain is there," Bates said.

The planning process for the memorial park has provided "a moment of comfort" for victims, she added. "There was a bonding, a coming together."

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

O.C. Supervisor Calls Judge’s Ruling in Dekraai Case a ‘Black Eye for the County’

Todd Spitzer said it was unfair to attribute prosecutorial misconduct on a stressed budget.

By Penny Arévalo

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer today called a Superior Court judge’s ruling this week on a convicted mass killer’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct a “black eye for the county.”

Spitzer made his comments at the end of today’s board meeting as he directed the county’s chief executive officer and chief financial officer to meet with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to see if he needs additional resources to avoid some of the legal missteps outlined in the 500-page plus motion filed by Scott Dekraai’s attorneys earlier this year.

The motion sought to have the death penalty removed as an option for prosecutors in the penalty phase for the man responsible for the worst mass killing in the county’s history. Dekraai also wanted Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to have the state Attorney General’s Office take over prosecution in the penalty phase.

Goethals denied both requests on Monday, but barred prosecutors from using Dekraai’s statements in custody against him in the penalty phase. The hearings on the accusations of government misconduct in the handling of Dekraai’s case started in mid-March and ended with Goethals’ ruling Monday.

Spitzer, holding up a copy of the Orange County Register today, accused Rackauckas, his former boss when the supervisor was a high-ranking prosecutor, of essentially ducking some responsibility for the more embarrassing allegations that came out of the hearings by blaming a lack of financial resources.

“We are now being used as an excuse for prosecutorial misconduct,” Spitzer said. “Why is the county being blamed?”

Spitzer went on to say, “I hope and I am positive that Dekraai will rot in hell. He is the incarnation of the devil.”

Rackauckas told reporters on Monday that one lesson learned from the Dekraai hearings was that some prosecutors were carrying too heavy a caseload, which led to some legal missteps. Rackauckas said he did not think anyone on his staff intentionally committed misconduct.

One of the more prominent prosecutors named in the Dekraai motion — Deputy District Attorney Erik Petersen — was booted by Goethals from a case just before the hearings began for failing to turn over all the evidence he had to defense attorneys as required. Petersen was prosecuting 80 cases at one time according to Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas’ chief of staff.

Spitzer, quoting Goethals, said a heavy workload is no excuse from the legal obligations of the job.

Spitzer told City News Service after today’s meeting that he has never said no to any budget increases from the District Attorney’s Office.

In fact, to comply with an increased exchange of evidence, which was made necessary because of the Dekraai hearings, Rackauckas has hired 11 new law clerks which will cost taxpayers about $750,000, Spitzer added.

“It makes no sense to me. How do you blame the county for a lack of resources when you haven’t asked for the resources,” Spitzer said.

“Is this real or is this just an excuse because they’re looking for ways to explain to the public why they didn’t fulfill their legal obligations… Don’t use me as your scapegoat unless I denied your request.”

Spitzer said the judge’s ruling shows prosecutors were “not playing fair” with defense attorneys, and he worried about the turmoil victims’ families will go through if appellate justices order a new trial.

Schroeder said Rackauckas, who fired Spitzer and sparked a long-running feud between the two, didn’t try to deflect blame.

“The district attorney didn’t blame anyone else for what happened. There were mistakes made by overworked prosecutors,” Schroeder told City News Service. “When you have 80 cases, that’s just too many.”

Schroeder accused Spitzer of playing politics.

“It’s a shame that Supervisor Spitzer once again has to make it all about him and politics,” Schroeder said.

“It’s a shame Supervisor Spitzer has to use a mass murder case with eight dead innocent victims to politicize his agenda and his issues with the District Attorney’s Office.”

Supervisor John Moorlach said Spitzer made his comments during a part of the board meeting that prevented the other supervisors from chiming in because the issue was not on the agenda. Moorlach was sympathetic to Rackauckas’ lament about trying to do more with less.

“Based on the circumstances we’ve done a pretty good job in this most difficult time in U.S. history,” Moorlach said.

–City News Service

John Wayne Airport can do more, grand jury finds

Supervisor Moorlach finds the results puzzling and says runway extension is unrealistic.

BY NICOLE SHINE/ STAFF WRITER

John Wayne Airport’s flights and parking are expensive, and if it wasn’t hampered by decades-old structures, it could make the county’s economy move and work faster.

Orange County grand jury handed down those findings in late June in a 67-page report. Some lawmakers and residents say its recommendations are puzzling, at best.

The grand jury recommended extending one runway to accommodate heavier planes, lowering long-term parking fees, instituting policies to woo more business and leisure travelers, and building a special lot for motorists waiting to pick up passengers.

Supervisor John Moorloch, whose district includes neighboring Newport Beach, said he found the grand jury recommendations baffling. He said the idea of extending a runway in a heavily populated area showed “a naivete that is almost eye-rolling.”

“It doesn’t reflect what the community is pursuing,” he said. “Increasing use of Ontario Airport has been the focus, and that’s where it should be.”

The report also says the airport is operating well below capacity and could have served roughly 1.6 million more passengers in 2013. In light of its routes to Mexico and Canada, the grand jury suggested the airport add “International” to its name.

The report comes at a critical juncture. Late next month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve an environmental study of a proposed amendment to the landmark Settlement Agreement that has capped flights and passenger levels since 1985. The amendment, considered crucial to those who live under the flight path, also reinforces nighttime flight curfews at the regional airport.

The report took aim at the pending Settlement Agreement in several areas. In one, they referenced an airfare study that concluded, “Orange County passengers can expect little or no airfare relief in the future if the Settlement Agreement continues to limit the number of flights and passengers in the face of growing demand for air travel.”

The grand jury didn’t explain why its report coincided with the pending Settlement Agreement. The panel also doesn’t, as a rule, make itself available for interviews.

The report says stakeholders were involved as it gathered information, but Moorloch said he wasn’t consulted. Otherwise, he said they would have known the parking lot they recommended was already in the works and is expected to be ready early next year.

Melinda Seely, who heads a group working to curb airport expansion, was interviewed. The Newport Beach resident said she was surprised and puzzled by the grand jury’s recommendations.

“We have been working so hard to contain the airport at its current levels,” said Seely, the president of AirFair. When she read the report, she said, “it was like what planet are they on?”

The grand jury last looked at the airport in 2003 when, in the wake of 9/11, its focus was security.

Contact the writer: nshine or Twitter:@nicolekshine

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