MOORLACH UPDATE — Voice of OC — May 20, 2010

Norberto Santana of the Voice of OC ripped out an interesting editorial on his musings about the position of County Supervisor. 

The photo was taken at this past Tuesday’s Board meeting.  This job reminds me of being in college.  You prepare for class, go to class, and prepare for the next class.  You’re either in class or preparing.  But, it seems like I’m carrying 21 to 24 units.

All fun.  All stimulating.  And, there’s always something.

Somebody Get These Candidates a Job Description



Violeta Vaqueiro — The scene at a recent Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting. The rhetoric of candidates running for the Fourth District supervisor seat in the June primary indicates that they might not have a realistic sense of what the job entails.

Listen to the rhetoric of candidates vying for the Fourth District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and you might wonder if they truly understand what kind of elective office they’re seeking.

In the run-up to the June 8 primary, voters are hearing chatter about "creating jobs," getting rid of "burdensome regulations" and "defending property rights" at speeches, at debates and in the candidates’ mailers.

Presidents, governors and members of Congress have some measure of control over these things. But county supervisors, by and large, don’t.

Yet supervisor candidates are spending as much — or more — time on talking points out of their parties’ playbooks than on issues and policies they’re likely to be confronted with in office.

"Some of the things they talk about sound good. But I’m not sure you could find a way to do that here," said Supervisor Bill Campbell, who represents the Third District.

This disconnect doesn’t seem to bother the supervisor candidates.

Republican Harry Sidhu, an Anaheim city councilman, often says he’ll keep eminent domain under control. But in 2006, supervisors pushed through a ballot initiative that severely restricted the use of eminent domain in Orange County. And even if those restrictions weren’t in place, there are hardly any unincorporated areas left where supervisors have such control over land.

The reality of the ever-shrinking unincorporated sections of the county also cuts against Sidhu’s other pledges — holding job fairs, helping businesses expand and cutting regulations.

Today, it’s the cities of Orange County that typically have more control over lowering — or hiking — revenues most closely linked to local residents: things like street parking rates, water and sewer fees, paramedic rates, and general business and developer fees.

Anaheim City Councilwoman Lorri Galloway talks about the jobs that public projects, like the expansion of John Wayne Airport, can provide. But Galloway, a Democrat, doesn’t mention that most capital projects at the county are on hold.

Those capital budgets have been eroded in recent years as budget managers raid funds to keep pace with current program costs. The only officials who can change that reside in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

And in the current environment, state officials are talking about raiding, rather than supplementing, local revenues. Meanwhile, Orange County’s Republican congressional delegation has taken a "no earmark" pledge, declining to pursue any big projects on behalf of local jurisdictions like the county.

"I don’t see my job as creating jobs," Supervisor John Moorlach said. "I need to get out of the way so the private sector can create jobs."

Fullerton City Councilman Shawn Nelson, who won the endorsement of the Orange County Republican Committee, talks passionately about the solving the county’s pension woes — which now feature a $3.3 billion unfunded liability. In the last debate, Nelson mentioned that the county shouldn’t be allowed to carry unfunded liabilities.

Yet a county supervisor can’t do anything about unfunded liabilities. They are largely what Moorlach years ago termed a "lobster trap."  Once benefits are expanded, there are few options for controlling unfunded liabilities as time goes on. They largely ebb and flow depending on the markets.

What voters won’t hear much about during the campaign is that a county supervisor is essentially the steward of a $5.5 billion health and social welfare agency.  The main job is to administer a slew of pass-through funds from the federal and state governments.

Not exactly a sexy campaign tidbit.

In fact, county supervisors have direct control over less than 10 percent of the county budget. And most of those discretionary funds are divided between the sheriff and the district attorney, who are themselves separately elected.

"It’s equivalent to the mayor of unincorporated areas," said Campbell — who, along with Supervisor Pat Bates, represents the largest swaths of such areas.

And in that respect, city council officials actually have direct experience that will help them serve as a county supervisor, Campbell noted.

In unincorporated areas, the issues are more closely related to those in a city — pot holes, public safety services, flood control, trash.

The biggest difference between a mayor or city council job and that of supervisor, Campbell said, is the direct participation in policy. Where city council members largely rely on a city manager to deal with policy, supervisors have entire staffs and work directly with the county bureaucracy.

"We have the ability to get really down deep into the policy," Campbell said.

And county supervisors do exert influence on regional issues and services, such as the airport, landfills, health and social services, and community services such as parks.

County supervisors serve on regional boards, such as the Orange County Transportation Authority or the toll road authority, and can help set policy countywide. Supervisors appoint each other to such posts and then rely on those officials to be the area experts.

Serving on so many boards — which are chock full of hard policy questions — is one of the biggest challenges in terms of time, said Moorlach.

"I knew I would have changes in time management," he said about making the switch in 2006 from treasurer/tax collector to supervisor. "There’s more time in scheduled appointments.  And preparing for meetings … just getting refocused on how to manage my time."

Probably the toughest aspect of the job facing county supervisors is overseeing the budgets of other elected officials, such as the sheriff and the district attorney.

And it’s unlikely that any candidate will tell voters that he or she will be in charge of figuring out how to downsize public safety services.

"For us right now, through June, it’s going to be dealing with the district attorney and the sheriff as they glide down their expenses," Moorlach said.

And it’s not going to get any easier in coming years.

"It’s going to be a real issue over public safety," Moorlach said, "which is the Holy Grail."

Please contact Norberto Santana, Jr., directly at And add your voice with a letter to the editor.


May 19


Teri Sforza, Mayrav Saar, and Lisa Faught of the OC Register covered the Alan Meyers story in “A man with many stories, many faces.”  Alan Meyers would not be the first or the last person who ended up  being a lot different than the book cover.  The reporters decided to include me in the piece.

                Even Orange County Treasurer John Moorlach, the first to perceive that Orange County was on the brink of bankruptcy, trusted Meyers enough to help him raise money for the senior center.

                “It sounded like he had great credentials, but (we did) not have any idea that this was under the surface,” he said.  “(It’s) like being dumped . . . I was going through the shock phase; now it’s anger.”

May 20


It looks like most of my 1995 clippings are still in boxes, but the following Associated Press story, titled “$2.2B flies out Orange County’s door,” is in my organized records.  It appeared in The Record, out of Indianapolis, Indiana, and was sent to me by one of my cousins.  He also sent me the AP piece, “Eager investors empty out Orange County coffers – California county pays out $2.2 billion after opening accounts frozen after bankruptcy,” which appeared in The Indianapolis Star and gave credit to E. Scott Reckard as the reporter.

This is one story worth passing along, as this particular day was a momentous one.  All of the outside participants were anxiously waiting for this day and they lined up outside my department.  I was not amused with the show FIB (First Interstate Bank) made of it.  And, Will B. King is still around.  I hadn’t seen him for sometime, but he briefly attended the County’s May 4 Board meeting before he was removed for being disruptive.  I’ll provide the entire text of the article that the rest of the nation had a chance to read.

                Investors finally given access to the remains of Orange County’s imploded treasury didn’t run out the door with billions of dollars in cash.

                They flew.

                For cities, sewer systems, water districts, transportation agencies and others that willingly invested with the county, Friday was D-Day – as in distribution.  Their funds were unfrozen, 5 ½ months after the largest government bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.

                On average, they recovered 77 cents on each dollar invested, reflecting the staggering $1.7 billion loss to the county pools.

                Investors are to get another 3 cents in “good as gold” notes in June.  County leaders say the last 20 cents will depend on how the county’s lawsuit against brokers works out and whether angry voters approve a sales-tax increase.

                Partial repayment or not, it was a day for stunts and celebration.

                First Interstate Bank handed out doughnuts and coffee at the county treasurer’s office and landed a helicopter atop its Anaheim main branch to fly checks to Los Angeles for free.

                The idea was to get them into First Interstate accounts before the weekend.

                “We got 11 customers who brought in 38 checks worth $300 million,” bank spokesman Ken Preston said.

                He estimated the money will earn $90,000 in interest over the weekend.

                Also on hand was Will B. King, a homeless comedian and auto dealer who harangues county leaders at public meetings and was ejected in drag recently from the O.J. Simpson trial.

                Wearing a pink baseball cap, sunglasses with luminescent blue rims, a Hawaiian shirt, a timeworn tie and his trademark shoes – one black sneaker, one white – King swaggered up to county Treasurer John M. W. Moorlach.

                “I heard you’re handing out money,” he said.  “I need some.”

                Moorlach had none for King but plenty for others:  in the 90 minutes it took to distribute more than 250 checks, $2.2 billion flowed out of the county treasury.

                Counting money from the county, separate agencies run by the county supervisors, and county schools (which are required to put operating cash in the treasury), Moorlach still has about $3 billion under management.

Moorlach lost an election last year against the incumbent treasurer, Robert L. Citron.  His warnings of the risks Citron was taking were largely ignored.

Citron has resigned in disgrace and pleaded guilty to fraud, and Moorlach has been appointed to replace him.

For years, many cities and agencies eagerly invested with Citron, wanting a piece of his high-return action.  It will be a while before any return.

“They’ve got to watch us for a while.  And if we outperform their other alternatives or we have a better service system, I think they’ll slowly return, they may come back,” Moorlach said.

He said he wishes he could hang out a big sign:  “Under New Management.”


One of the more colorful activists in the city of Costa Mesa decided to submit a letter to the editor in the Daily Pilot.  Nick Schou of the OC Weekly described him as a Costa Mesa anti-immigrant gadfly. 

Martin H. Millard makes a good argument about the necessity of the bond (see MOORLACH UPDATE — LOOK BACKS — May 12, 2010).  He couches it in a creative attack on my grading methodology.

These school bond measures were passing.  I simply got in front of them and made sure they had proper fiscal stewardship policies in place.  Even the Orange County Taxpayers Association followed my lead with a similar model on the topic of school bond measures.

Here’s a condensed version of his opposition to the upcoming bond measure, titled “Reader gives Moorlach an ’F’ for grade on Measure A.”

                The problem with Orange County Treasurer John Moorlach’s “A” for the proposed Newport-Mesa Unified School District school bond Measure A is in the fact that the criteria he uses in giving the mark assumes the money is needed.  It isn’t.

                John Moorlach’s methodology deserves an “F” for the fact that he’s allowing himself to be used by the tax and spend educrats in this manner.

                H. MILLARD

Costa Mesa

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