The Board of Supervisors directed John Wayne Airport (JWA) to review three options: 1. Continue with the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA); 2. Consider establishing its own internal firefighting crew; or 3. Utilize an outside firefighting firm. As a result of this process, JWA submitted for Board approval a contract with a private firm. The matter was to be heard at next Tuesday’s Board meeting, but was continued when OCFA filed a protest on the selection process. I had the opportunity to meet with OCFA Chief Keith Richter and two of his key aides and they made some very compelling arguments for continuing the relationship, a few of which are addressed by the OC Register in the first article below. In reviewing a comparison of the salaries and benefits proposed by both vendors, the hourly wage ranges are comparable. The costs for benefits are also comparable, with one exception: retirement costs. The retirement costs for OCFA are 52.7% of pensionable salary, while it is 1.5% for Pro-Tec Fire Services. This dichotomy demonstrates why certain public sector employees could be priced out of certain markets. That said, there are a number of intangibles that make OCFA an outstanding provider and should make for a good debate.
The second piece is a Letter to the Editor in the Huntington Beach Independent (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Second District Scramble — July 25, 2013). It provides an opportunity for me to remind the writer of a few critical facts.
· I voted against the County’s response to the Grand Jury’s CalOptima report, in a 4-1 vote. I voted against almost every Board item impacting CalOptima, including most of the Board member selections, in the past two and one-half years, again being in the minority. This may be why the report was titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle" (with emphasis on the word Majority). I share the letter writer’s frustration over recent concerns with CalOptima.
· There was no arrogant dismissal of the Grand Jury’s Ethics report. Quite frankly the report was disappointing on many levels. But, I have been doing some soul-searching on the matter. I met yesterday with a PhD, an expert on corporate ethics, that I’ve known for sixteen years who has served four publicly traded corporations. He made some surprising observations. If the report was a dissertation, he would have failed it by page 3. He lamented that there was no mention of the Audit Oversight Committee. If it were to list egregious past activities, then it should have started somewhere more reasonable, like post-bankruptcy. And I could go on with his criticisms, but the Board’s response was not out of arrogance, it was about receiving a substandard piece of work with a tabloid journalism approach.
· It is worth noting that the “pittance” that the Grand Jury members receive in Orange County is more than three times the state’s required rate and the members receive generous mileage reimbursements for commuting to a job that is half-time, not full-time.
BONUS: For those of you with children that are high school students and if they are focused on resume building, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has an opportunity to serve the residents of Orange County. As part of the outreach to support development of the Long Range Transportation Plan, OCTA staff is planning a roundtable with high school age teenagers to determine if and how transportation behaviors of youth are changing. Research from theTransportation Research Institute (University of Michigan) states that today’s youth tend to delay attainment of their driver’s licenses, have an affinity for technology and favor alternative transportation methods such as transit, carpooling and active transportation. The roundtable will inform Orange County youth (16-18 year olds) about the key transportation issues and engage them in a dialogue about their transportation priorities. If this is of interest, please contact Ellen Burton, Executive Director, External Affairs, at eburton or (714) 560-5923.
Private company proposes same staffing as fire authority, but at half the cost
By TONY SAAVEDRA
A battle is brewing over the multi-million dollar contract to provide air rescue and fire protection at John Wayne Airport.
The county is looking at unloading the Orange County Fire Authority and its $23.6 million, five-year contract in favor of a private fire agency that says it can do the federally required job for $11.7 million. Both proposals call for a 24-hour, six-person crew at JWA, where there hasn’t been a major crash since 1981.
The idea of losing the lucrative contract held by county firefighters since 1980 has the firefighters union threatening legal action. Meanwhile, county officials say high pensions have made OCFA too expensive when compared with Pro-tec Fire Services Ltd., which provides less generous benefits.
"This shows the joy of competition," Supervisor John Moorlach said. "The winning bidder can not only do it for a lot less but has a (good) track record at other facilities."
Shawn Nelson, chairman of the board of supervisors, said OCFA would have to show why it should be kept despite a higher cost.
"If they are the professionals they profess to be, let’s hear their arguments," Nelson said.
Joe Kerr, spokesman for the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association, countered that county supervisors were potentially reducing safety to save some dollars.
"You know as well as I do, (a private vendor) would not be able to navigate a major emergency without calling the OCFA," Kerr said.
While there have been no major crashes in decades at John Wayne Airport, there have been 523 emergency responses in 2012, including 22 calls of disabled aircraft and 19 fuel spills. The contract would not include the terminal, which is served by OCFA on a separate agreement.
Based in Green Bay, WI, Pro-tec serves 12 commercial airports and three general aviation facilities in the United States – including Bob Hope Airport in Burbank – and a commercial airport in Canada, according to a county staff report. A county evaluation board rated Pro-tec higher than OCFA on major job requirements.
OCFA Chief Kevin Richter responded by filing a formal protest, contending the county was prohibited from signing with a private contractor under California Government Code sections dealing with special services. They are the same government codes that employees in Costa Mesa used in 2012 to fight off their city’s march toward privatization.
However, the county sought legal counsel and was given the go-ahead to proceed with the proposal.
"We strongly believe legal action will not prevail," Moorlach said. "How do we justify, explain to our constituents we’re paying a lot more when we can get the service cheaper?"
Union officials accused Moorlach and his fellow supervisors of pulling a "bait and switch," getting OCFA to make concessions in a new five-year contract that was signed in November 2012. That contract contains a termination clause allowing the county to sign with Pro-tec.
Kerr argued that Pro-tec Fire Services does not possess the network of support needed to respond to a major crash. The company would need backup to evacuate the scene, treat the injured and provide transportation.
"This whole thing is a farce," Kerr said.
Carl Thiem, general manager at Pro-tec, said his crew would indeed call for mutual aid from OCFA if more resources were needed.
"They are legally bound to provide mutual aid and they would have to respond. Nothing would change," Thiem said. "We will still draw upon those resources."
He agreed that the major difference between his crew and the OCFA was compensation.
"State and county benefit programs are very expensive and your state is incredibly expensive. I am paying a market wage," Thiem said.
The proposal to yank John Wayne Airport from the fire authority comes at a time when OCFA is wrestling with other issues, primarily trying to keep the city of Irvine in the fold.
Irvine has for years overpaid by millions of dollars for fire protection because of an outdated taxing formula. The fire authority has offered a $123 million rebate to Irvine if the city commits to staying in the authority until 2030. Irvine also is contemplating pulling out in 2020 and creating its own fire department, which could take from OCFA up to a quarter of its property tax revenues and fees.
"OCFA has to do some soul searching," Moorlach said.
Because of OCFA’s formal protest, the contracts are being reviewed by the county purchasing office. Once the review is over, the contracts will go to the county Airport Commission and finally to the Board of Supervisors.
Contact the writer: tsaavedra
Mailbag: County candidates must show moral compass
Any potential candidate running to fill John Moorlach’s district on the Orange County Board of Supervisors should have a substantially better platform than having "firsthand knowledge of how things get done at that level," (Jim Moreno, Daily Pilot, July 30).
The series of 2012-13 Orange County Grand Jury reports containing detailed evidence of our county’s corruption will require a great deal more than a few new ideas that the candidate’s party approves. Included in the array of grand jury reports are "CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle" and "A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County."
Arrogant dismissal of these reports by county elected officials was followed by their recommendation to reduce the daily pittance members of the grand jury receive, even though these volunteers commit to this full-time job for one year.
The damage done by this county’s supervisors is incalculable if one has only followed the destruction of CalOptima, our county’s $1.5 billion healthcare system responsible for serving 427,000 people with low income or a disability.
The FBI has just recently initiated a task force to investigate Orange County political corruption. Undoubtedly the 2012-13 grand jury reports and Fair Political Practices Committee investigation of Orange County supervisors and CalOptima (members appointed by the Board of Supervisors) served as the basis for this attention.
Any candidate for public office wanting my vote must comprehend and acknowledge the damage done. I must be convinced of his or her commitment to ethical behavior and the best interests of constituents.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The OC Register provided a supportive editorial with “Watching the watchers – Oversight of O.C. sheriff’s department in place.”
After nearly two years, OC Supervisor John Moorlach’s proposal for independent oversight of the sheriff’s department has materialized. The Board of Supervisors took a crucial step Tuesday to address the recurring problem of deputy misconduct by approving the contract of Steve Connolly as executive director of the new Office of Independent Review.
The push for civilian oversight of the sheriff’s department developed in response to the brutal jailhouse murder of John Chamberlain in October 2006, which occurred while a deputy watched TV nearby. Upon further investigation, it was found that deputies often turned a blind eye to inmate violence. But as Mr. Moorlach said, "This is Orange County, not Gotham City" – inmates shouldn’t be in fear for their lives.
We were early proponents of civilian oversight, emphasizing the importance of public oversight when sheriff’s deputies are accused of using excessive force or allowing abuses to occur within the county jail system. The internal review processes of the sheriff’s department and grand jury just weren’t effective enough. Former Sheriff Mike Carona tried to stifle investigations of misconduct, and grand juries were only empanelled after the most grievous abuses took place. Federal corruption charges filed against Mr. Carona, as well as a recent grand jury report pointing to deputies who napped, and watched television while on duty, and who used inmate "shot callers" to mete out discipline within the jails, reaffirmed the need for independent oversight.
The original civilian oversight concept was modified into one of a professional, legally staffed Office of Independent Review, in light of the 2006 California Supreme Court’s Copley decision, which restricts the ability of civilian oversight panels to gain access to data from deputy disciplinary hearings. The new OIR is patterned on the Los Angeles Office of Independent Review and will allow attorneys to review deputy records of abuse, oversee internal affairs investigations and recommend changes in policy. The last prong is most important because it provides a corrective mechanism. It will also help minimize money spent on fighting lawsuits; there are now 30 pending from Sheriff Carona’s administration.
Mr. Carona and other critics earlier this year claimed the office was unnecessary because other checks were in place. But when Mr. Moorlach’s office put the OIR up to a vote in February, the board unanimously approved, and in late July selected Mr. Connolly as its executive director.
Mr. Connolly is a good choice because he has served as an attorney for the Los Angeles OIR since its inception in 2001. Mr. Connolly has also worked with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, which should help him navigate the Sheriff’s Department.
It is unclear how much work there will be for Mr. Connolly, but he seems set on efficiency, saying that he wants to "get a quick, thorough understanding of the department and make relationships with county residents and officials." To quell anxieties over the OIR’s own accountability, Mr. Connolly agreed to meet with supervisors at their request and submit quarterly updates on investigations. At the top of his agenda is hiring a staff, getting to know the county and ironing out specific procedures.
We welcome Mr. Connolly to the county and are pleased that this once-controversial proposal is now viewed by county politicians, residents and law enforcement as a necessary check and balance on a powerful government agency.
Christian Berthelsen of the LA Times provided his take in “Prosecutors won’t charge Orange County treasurer – The D.A.’s office closes probe into allegations Chriss Street steered county remodeling jobs to favored contractors and did personal business on work time.” Here are the opening paragraphs:
Orange County prosecutors will not file charges and have closed their investigation into allegations that county Treasurer Chriss Street steered county office remodeling jobs to favored contractors and conducted personal business during work time.
In a letter issued this week, the district attorney’s office concluded that allegations that Street violated the law are "not established by the evidence." The letter was sent to county Executive Officer Thomas Mauk, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach and Street.
Street, who was already under investigation by federal authorities for his private business dealings involving a bankrupt trucking concern before he became treasurer, came under fire last year for a lavish office remodeling job that cost at least $758,000. It included new, high-end furniture and a floor plan to expand his office and create a small trading floor modeled on those used by investment banks or fund management firms.
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