Neither the Orange County District Attorney or the Orange County Grand Jury has pursued one case in the last eight years conveying that an Orange County Supervisor cast a vote based on the contributions that he or she received from a vendor. Not one charge. Not one indictment. Not one admission. Not one conviction. There is no empirical evidence that any of the hundreds of contracts approved by a majority of the Board of Supervisors were done under a cloud of impropriety or as a blatant favor for a campaign donor or a vendor’s lobbyist. I’ve been told about an army of interns at the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA) reviewing campaign finance reporting documents, which is all online due to an ordinance that my office drafted seven years ago and received Board approval, but not one example of “cronyism.” No one has built a compelling case for the need for an ethics commission. In fact, OCEA has just killed legislation that would have provided an effective subcontracting opportunity with the Fair Political Practices Commission, similar to a model utilized by San Bernardino County (after enduring years of ethically challenged elected officials). So much about being serious about addressing ethics in government. For history on this topic, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Homeless Shelter, et al — July 16, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — Minting New COIN — June 25, 2014, and MOORLACH UPDATE — Tackling to Reasserting — February 5, 2014.
We do have an overabundance of anecdotal evidence on the political power, influence and campaign contributions of public employee unions to elected officials that negotiate and approve salaries and benefits to government employees. The landscape is replete with the Vallejos, Stocktons, and Detroits of this nation that have had their budgets choked by cash flow deficiencies resulting from overpromising pension and retiree medical benefits. The obvious solution? Have these negotiations aired in public. For a history lesson on the implementation of Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN), see MOORLACH UPDATE — COIN — May 2, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — COIN Discussion — May 19, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — Maximus COIN — June 17, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — COIN and VBM — June 23, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — COIN Expiration Date? — July 14, 2014, and MOORLACH UPDATE — COIN Modifications — July 18, 2014.
It is nice that OCEA has provided its proposed ordinance, originally with the acronym CRONE, for Board member consideration. Better to provide something in writing than to constantly spew out rhetoric. All five of the Board members knew what they were correcting when they voted for COIN. It will be interesting to see if one of us will put CRONE or CRONEY on the agenda and explain what is being corrected by its implementation. As for me, I have been very clear with vendors and lobbyists who donated to my campaign: “Provide the lowest and most responsible bid, and you’ll have my vote.” It’s that simple.
It looks like COIN hit OCEA’s leadership exactly where it hurt the most. But, making a mockery of long overdue transparency in the negotiating process by contrasting it to something that is as open book as it can get, seems like a comic and desperate overreach. OCEA’s General Manager has recently announced his upcoming retirement plans. Maybe CRONEY is his final “scene” before he exits the stage and the OCEA’s membership selects his replacement (after a nationwide search, I’m sure). One would think that OCEA should be able to find someone who can do the job for half the cost of the current general manager’s annual compensation package.
Labor aims to flip COIN in its favor with new transparency initiative
Under union’s ‘CRONEY’ proposal, Orange County would make all private contract negotiations transparent.
By Teri Sforza
Is what’s good for the goose good for the gander?
Labor officials – so steamed that the County of Orange embraced the public baring of once-secret employee union negotiations that they’re striking back – say yes, oh yes.
And so meet CRONEY – Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency – a proposal being circulated here and in Sacramento by the Orange County Employees Association, which represents 18,000 county and city workers.
CRONEY would require Orange County to publicly detail its dances with the private companies it contracts with for billions of dollars worth of goods and services, much as the new (and labor-detested) Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance requires it to detail dances with worker unions.
“If your position is that you need that kind of ultra-transparency for labor contracts, then the extension is, you should do it for all your contracts,” said Nick Berardino, general manager of OCEA, whose dislike for COIN may not be overstated.
This irritates Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson, who points out that government contracts with private companies are already subject to a competitive bidding system, which exposes much of the process.
“This is sleight of hand, a false tiger,” Nelson said. “When we’re considering a contract, it appears on a public agenda. You see every staff report I see. If we tell staff to go negotiate something, they come back and put it in a report. I have to vote on it in public.
“We already do this. What he’s trying to do is punish us because we did something he didn’t want,” Nelson said.
Before one dismisses all this as political gamesmanship, consider this: The grand jury recently pointed out that Orange County grants contracts worth more than $3 billion to 3,400 outside vendors and said they’re handled in a rather haphazard fashion. The county should centralize the exercise with a contracting/purchasing czar, so there’s clear responsibility and accountability, the grand jury said.
FLIP A COIN
We’ve talked about how cloak-and-dagger contract negotiations between municipal governments and their workers have been: lots of closed-session, hush-hush, top-secret-type stuff, followed by the sudden appearance of a contract that comes to a swift city council or board vote and then is a done deal – before, critics charge, the public (and even some of the people voting on it) really understand what it promises, or what it will cost.
In 2012, Costa Mesa went where no government had gone before, approving an ordinance forcing employee contract negotiations out of the darkness and into the light. Costa Mesa trumpeted COIN as “an unprecedented piece of municipal legislation that would bring maximum transparency to city labor negotiations, which have been traditionally done outside of public view and with little chance for the public to review the contracts prior to their approval.” It was the brainchild of Councilman Steve Mensinger, and versions have been adopted in Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades and Fullerton.
So, Supervisor John Moorlach proposed the county’s COIN ordinance, modeled after Costa Mesa’s. It requires the reporting of all formal offers and formal counteroffers from closed sessions. The county auditor-controller will estimate the financial impacts of changes and compare them to costs in the current contract. Everything will be posted on the county website, available to all for comment and criticism. When both sides agree on a proposed contract, it too will be posted for all to see and digest before any votes are taken on it.
Labor folks – from deputy sheriffs to deputy district attorneys – called the proposal “criminal,” “an ambush,” “another knife in the back,” “a thinly veiled attempt to further politicize an overpoliticized process,” and threatened to sue. But the supervisors adopted it last month nonetheless.
Berardino made it clear in June that if supervisors want transparency, they need it across the board.
“The public is even more interested in how you’re getting money on contracts you vote for,” Berardino said in June, citing figures for information technology contracts, parking contracts and more. “The money is bundled through lobbyists and, more often than not, you approve those contracts for your political contributors. People want to know that, too … but you want to focus on the unions. We are mere paupers in terms of what you let out in terms of contracts. … You will never want to show how this money gets laundered into your pocket.”
So another little bit of friendly advice the grand jury had for the county: Get yourself an independent ethics commission, like the ones in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. (These things may not seem related, but stay with us here.)
Instead, supervisors devised a plan to have the distant Fair Political Practices Commission do the dirty work.
This plan was a two-headed dragon: The local ballot measure in November will ask voters to hand power to the FPPC, while a bill in the state Legislature would enable the commission to accept that power.
Last month, however, state lawmakers gutted that bill after the Orange County Employees Association opposed it.
“OCEA would consider removing its opposition if the bill were amended to include … language requiring that all contracts between the county and any and all private entities be negotiated in public,” says a letter from OCEA’s lobbyist to state legislators. “Transparency during the contracting process, along with the grand jury’s recommendations, will eliminate the ‘pay-to-play’ politics currently being practiced in Orange County.”
That language OCEA called CRONE. We at The Watchdog cop to pushing Berardino into adding the Y word at the end, given the context, after all; and thus, we have CRONEY.
It takes much language directly from COIN, calling for independent economic analysis of the cost of contracts, made available to the public, before anything is voted upon; requiring the reporting “of all offers, counteroffers, information and/or statements of position discussed by the private entity and county representatives”; and the release of “a list of names of all persons in attendance during any negotiation session regarding the contract (whether in person or by electronic means), the date of the session, the length of the session, the location where the session took place and any pertinent facts regarding the negotiations that occurred in that session.”
Current public contracting requirements usually involve public “requests for proposals,” detailing exactly what’s desired by the government, followed by the public unsealing of bids from companies that want the work, followed by a public hashing out of who should get it.
Often it’s the lowest bidder, but not always, explains Supervisor Moorlach. Governments often take what they consider the lowest responsible bid (implying that those who claim they can do it super cheaply may not be entirely grounded in reality).
And there are also processes that score bidders on many attributes in addition to price. Squabbles often erupt around the weight given to those various attributes, and who exactly is on the scoring panel, and supervisors hear from angry bidders on the losing end all the time.
Sometimes, the agencies do direct staff to negotiate with the bidders. But Chairman Nelson contends that the results of those sessions are ultimately reported back to the board, in public.
The last thing the workers should want, Nelson said, is to find their work on the board’s agenda in a lowbid competitive situation.
Berardino begs to differ. He wants supervisors to disclose who attempted to lobby them and when, who did the negotiating and what they said.
“Everyone seems concerned about that when it comes to labor, and I don’t disagree with that,” Berardino said. “But do that for everyone.”
CONTACT THE WRITER: tsforza
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