Lets unwrap yesterdays events in the following order. Well start with the OC Registers take on the Boards strategy to provide an ethics oversight committee. It may take some time, as we support legislation in Sacramento and then put ballot measures before the Countys voters, probably in 2016. In spite of all the work that was invested in 2010 into the failed attempt at improving the current ordinance that is known in Orange County as TIN CUP (Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics), considering the use of the states Fair Political Practices Commission is a solution that is worthy of further consideration.
The OC Registers piece concludes with a mention of Mark Denny, the Countys Chief Operating Officer and former OC Parks Director. Mark Denny was the recipient of an aggressive District Attorneys attempt to make a name for himself. Those efforts backfired when his bid to become Californias next Attorney General failed in the primary and his heir apparent lost in his candidacy to the current DA. All the same, it is an incident on Marks record. So, the general manager of the Orange County Employees Association knows that the County has no financial resources to grant pay increases to his union members. After all, he was unable to convince the Governor and the Department of Finance to return our Vehicle License Fee/Property Tax revenues. Now his frustration is being vented in tactics that may also backfire, as they do not change the real issue of the state taking significant revenues from Orange County which has reduced the funds available for raises. The second piece, from the Daily Pilot, also covers this matter.
The third piece is from the Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch. I believe this is the third or fourth time the Board has heard the matter of what is known as the vicious dog ordinance. With every meeting, more defenders of fighting dogs, citing Michael Vicks dogfighting case, shared concerns that the ordinance needed to be modified. During the last two hearings, I inquired if one or more of the suggested changes could be adopted in order to achieve a compromise with this constituency. Mind you, there have been no dogfighting incidents in Orange County. But, with my luck, there could be one tomorrow. So why not try to find a resolution? I did not get a reasonable response from County staff to my inquiries to adopt some of the recommended language changes made by the speakers. The response was, were following the states definitions. Thats when I recommended that maybe the speakers should consider making changes in state law. The item was up for a motion, and after a very brief pause, the Chair ruled that the matter died for lack of a second. The Voice of OC also covers the topic in the fourth piece below, and mentions that this item has been on the Boards agenda seven times. The good news is that taxpayers can come to Board meetings, make a reasonable argument, and change the outcome.
The Lake Forest Patch provides a matter that had an interesting twist in the fifth piece below. The Sheriffs request to the Board referred to misdemeanor inmates in the Penal Codes that were cited, which had no reference to felons. However, there was the possibility of house arrest for some felons in the last five days of their sentences, which came up in the discussion. All the same, I trust that the Sheriff and her Command Staff would use their utmost judgment to keep the residents of this County safe with this requested tool. My colleagues did not agree.
The sixth and final piece is from the Voice of OC and provides a review of the Boards CalOptima discussion. CalOptima CEO Michael Shrader was generous with his time and spent the afternoon answering questions from the Board. I was a little frustrated that CalOptima had spent $300,000 on a report generated as a result of an employee who recanted half of his claims once the investigation process began (see MOORLACH UPDATE — CalOptima’s Past — February 4, 2014). I asked why that employee was still in CalOptimas employ. Michael Shrader stated that he was comfortable with and elected to retain the employee. It was this particular employee that withheld the Theodora report from me, although as a County Supervisor, I am somehow being held responsible for the activities of CalOptima. One wonders if so much time and effort had not been devoted toward going down rabbit holes for claims made by this employee, that CalOptima could have stuck to its knitting, and would not be in the awkward position that it is now in.
Supervisors tackle gift bans, political ethics enforcement
By Mike Reicher
Orange County supervisors voted Tuesday to pursue outsourcing the enforcement of political ethics to a state agency, and to potentially water down some restrictions on gift bans.
Officials will ask the state Legislature to authorize the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce ethics in Orange County.
The unanimous vote was in response to a 2013 grand jury report titled A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County. The grand jury called on supervisors to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study ethics programs elsewhere and to recommend a plan to establish an ethics oversight committee.
Supervisors Todd Spitzer and Shawn Nelson recommended the county contract with the FPPC instead of establishing its own committee.
Some county ordinances are more restrictive than state law. Administrators will ask that the state enforce the local campaign contribution limit of $1,900 per person, instead of the states limit of $4,100. But the supervisors didnt seek to retain Orange Countys ban on gifts from those who do business with the county. Instead, the state allows gifts valued up to $440, as long as they are disclosed.
Loosening the rules would have to be approved by voters, officials said.
In a separate matter, the leader of the Orange County Employees Association recently called for the Board of Supervisors to remove Mark Denny, the countys chief operating officer, from his oversight of the registrar of voters.
As contract talks have hit an impasse, OCEA is releasing negative information against county administrators, in the hopes they will concede during negotiations.
Denny was convicted in 1996 of election fraud, and has since made a comeback in local politics. He admitted to circulating fraudulent nominating papers in a Republican scheme to win the 67th Assembly District election. At the time of the election, he was a staff aide to Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle.
Voting is the most sacred right of our democracy, OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino wrote in an email, saying Dennys oversight demonstrates a clear disregard of the sanctity of the precious American privilege of the vote.
Supervisor John Moorlach called Berardinos request a low blow in a battle to intimidate supervisors.
Denny told the Register last year the experience helped me understand accountability and responsibility for ones stupid decision.
Union objects to COO over elections
Labor leaders say the man’s previous fraud charge is a problem, but Supervisor Moorlach calls the complaint a negotiating tactic.
By Jill Cowan
Leaders of Orange County’s largest labor union are calling for the reassignment of the county’s chief operating officer, who they say can’t objectively oversee a department recently moved under his purview.
Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny, who pleaded guilty to an election fraud charge in 1996, was recently given authority over Orange County’s Registrar of Voters the department tasked with administering elections.
That, Orange County Employees Assn. General Manager Nick Berardino wrote in an email to supervisors this week, "demonstrates a clear disregard of the sanctity of the precious American privilege of the vote."
OCEA is locked in a series of heated contract negotiations with the county. The union also represents city employees in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
County Supervisor John Moorlach said Tuesday that he saw the situation as a dead issue being raised as part of an "old school" labor negotiating strategy.
Denny, he recalled, was a "sweet, bright kid" who was swept up "in something really bizarre."
The misdemeanor charge at issue stemmed from Denny’s involvement in a Republican Party scheme to manipulate the ballot in an Assembly race by circulating nominating petitions for a decoy Democratic candidate.
At the time, Denny, then 27, was working as an aide to then-Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle. He resigned his post and was sentenced to three years’ probation, along with community service and a fine, according to reports from the time.
Denny was also barred from participating in campaign work during his probation.
County spokeswoman Jean Pasco wrote in an email that Denny later served as former Supervisor Bill Campbell’s chief of staff. Then in 2008, he was hired as director of the county’s parks department.
The position of chief operating officer was created during a restructuring of the county’s chief executive office under Chief Executive Mike Giancola, who was appointed in May.
Previously, the duties of the COO were spread out among several assistants or deputies, who helped manage the county’s numerous smaller departments, such as its healthcare agency, according to Pasco.
She said Tuesday that the person in the job functions more as a liaison between those departments and the overarching county government than as a manager.
Giancola said in a statement that he knew of Denny’s background when he hired him for the job in June and stands by the choice.
"I have full confidence in my chief operating officer," he said, adding that Denny’s "doing a great job for the county."
Denny declined to comment Tuesday.
Supes Back off Changing Vicious Dog Law
Local dog owners called the move "good news."
Posted by Penny Arvalo (Editor)
By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
The Orange County Board of Supervisors today rejected a revised ordinance that would have further regulated vicious dogs.
After several dog owners criticized the proposed revisions in the county’s ordinance, none of the supervisors moved to approve staff’s recommended legislation.
The county will continue enforcing its current ordinance and abandon proposed changes, which would have defined dangerous dogs on a scale of 1-3. The most dangerous dogs, level 3, would be euthanized, Orange County Animal Care Director Ryan Drabek said.
The county’s ordinance is the same as state law with two classifications — potentially dangerous and vicious, Drabek said. There’s nothing in the current ordinance that automatically mandates the euthanization of a dangerous dog.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a change to the ordinance, cracking down on the ability of vicious dog owners to get another pet when a dangerous canine is taken away from them.
Ben Dunham of Laguna Niguel brought his pit bull service dog, Boss, to today’s meeting to illustrate how tame and well-trained the breed can be. He said the board’s refusal to adopt the revisions was good news.
Dunham’s dog was rescued from a dog-fighting operation four years ago, he said.
Several dog owners complained that the revised ordinance was too breed-specific and singled out pit bulls, but Drabek said that wasn’t the case. Drabek himself owns a pit bull and a pit-bull mix, he said.
The dog owners said the revised ordinance was unfair, because it would have permanently labeled dogs rescued from fighting rings as vicious. But Drabek said state law already does that.
Dog owners still have due process under the current ordinance and would have under the amended law, Drabek said. They can appeal to an administrative hearing officer and, if necessary, to an Orange County Superior Court judge.
Josh Liddy, a former Costa Mesa resident who lives in Pasadena, told the supervisors most dog owners lack the resources or know-how to appeal an adverse labeling of their pet.
The revised ordinance called for labeling troubled canines as Level 1, 2 and 3.
A Level 1 dog would be one that on two occasions during a 36-month period did something that put someone or another animal in a defensive, protective or fleeing position. A dog could have been categorized as Level 1 if it bit a person without provocation, leaving at most a minor injury.
A Level 1 dog could have graduated to the second level if the bad behavior persisted.
A Level 2 dog would have been one guilty of an unprovoked attack on four separate occasions, forcing someone or another animal to avoid injury. Level 2 dogs would also be defined as ones that cause a severe or substantial injury to a person or other animal.
Dogs used for fighting or trained to fight would have been considered Level 2.
A Level 3 dog would be one that killed someone or caused a severe injury such as maiming. Police or military dogs on the job would have been exempt.
A dog would have been labeled Level 3 only if the owner was convicted, Drabek said.
Supervisor John Moorlach suggested that the activists appeal to state lawmakers for a change in the dog-regulation legislation.
OC Supervisors Decide Against Changes to Vicious Dog Law
By NICK GERDA
After months of debate by county leaders, activists were victorious Tuesday in their fight against a law change that they said would have made it easier for county officials to put down dogs found in fighting rings.
It just reflects old ideas. It reflects old thinking, said attorney Marla Tausher. Its disgraceful, frankly, and its totally unfair.
Advocates presented a copy of an online petition against the ordinance thats gained more than 4,300 supporters in Orange County and around the world.
The sheer volume of signatures should send you a message that we wont let our representatives rubber stamp this legislation without our voices being heard, said Corinne DAmbrosio of the Orange County-based SoCal Pitbull T.E.A.M.
When it came time for county supervisors to vote, no one, including its chief advocate, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, moved for approval. It followed months of consideration by the board.
Chairman Shawn Nelson then quipped that it was a mark of efficiency.
Several of the speakers urged the county to use animal behavior experts to determine whether dogs are vicious.
All dogs used by humans as an extension of their own aggressive tendencies are victims, said resident Barbara Telesmanic, urging supervisors to hold owners accountable instead of abused animals.
Nelson replied that the focus does indeed need to be placed on the owners.
Please understand, part of our problem is its not that the dogs misbehave. Some of these owners misbehave, said Nelson. I wish I understood why certain owners act like idiots
Joel Solomon, another speaker, spoke fondly of his adopted pit bull, which he said was accused of being in a fighting ring.
This is the greatest dog that has made the biggest impression on me, my friends and family, Solomon said, adding that his dog has been dubbed Herbie the Love Bug.
Rose Villagas, a resident, said she adopted a pitbull in August who was deemed aggressive by an animal shelter in Downey.
This dog has not once attempted to bite me, growl at me or anything, Villagas told supervisors. Under your new ordinance, she would be dead.
She asked what qualifications the animal control director has to say that my dog should be dead.
Supervisor John Moorlach challenged a central premise of the activists.
Every time this issue comes up, Moorlach said, he asks, Do we have an issue with fighting dogs in Orange County? And every time the answer has been no. And yet here we are, always addressing fighting dogs.
Supervisor Pat Bates said the issue has been overblown.
I think there’s been a lot of hype over it, said Bates.
Moorlach suggested that if activists had a problem with the dangerous dog definitions, they should take it up with state legislators.
The petition, organized by the pit bull organization, asserted that the proposed changes would adversely affect victims of cruelty seized in fight busts.
It goes on to state:
The ordinance would also deem any dog as a Level 1: potentially dangerous dog if that dog injured or caused any injury to a domestic animal. So, if a bird, rabbit, dog or cat came onto the property of the dogs owner and the dog reacted by injuring the animal, that dog would be labeled as Level 1: potentially dangerous. This provision should only apply when dogs are off their owners property.
In addition, innocent dogs who did not even participate in an attack could be held responsible. In a situation when multiple dogs are present at the time of an incident, the proposed ordinance declares that if it could not reasonably be ascertained which of the dogs so acted, than all the dogs may be declared to be Level 1, 2, or 3 dogs.
The ordinance change was spearheaded by Spitzer, who has made public safety issues a central theme of his policy efforts.
It was first proposed in September, apparently because a canyon resident was using dogs to intimidate others.
Spitzer wanted the default to be for dangerous dogs to be killed, leaving it to the animal control director to justify giving a dog back instead. And he argued for a website, like those for sex offenders, that lists the home addresses of dogs deemed dangerous by the county.
Since September, the issue has been repeatedly brought to the board and delayed. Tuesday’s was the seventh time it was on the agenda.
Please contact Nick Gerda directly at ngerda and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
Supes Reject Plan to Release Felons from Jail Early
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens wanted to electronically monitor some inmates at home to relieve jail congestion.
Posted by Penny Arvalo (Editor)
The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ plan to release some felons to electronic home monitoring to relieve jail congestion.
Supervisor John Moorlach made the motion to allow Hutchens the latitude to send some felons home to be monitored, but it died for lack of a second.
I would have to be very, very conservative and support that because of the impacts on our community, Supervisor Patricia Bates said. I think there might be other alternatives… But I will certainly keep an open mind as we move forward.
Moorlach said, I’m confident both the sheriff and the chief of probation will monitor this program to the degree that our residents expect.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson indicated he would have voted yes if the motion had received a second.
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Steve Kea said Hutchens has the discretion to keep tabs on misdemeanor offenders with electronic home monitoring, but wanted the flexibility to let non-violent felons participate in the same program.
The Probation Department has the flexibility to let some non-violent felons be monitored at home.
Probation is already doing this, Kea said, adding it is a voluntary program in which inmates are assessed a fee that’s adjusted by their ability to pay.
Hutchens can order some inmates to participate in a community work program that’s much like having to do service picking up trash for Caltrans, Kea said.
Electronic monitoring would offer more supervision, Kea said.
The county houses about 7,000 inmates in its jails and has 7,300 available beds, Kea said. But with some inmates having to be isolated and other factors the county usually has about 100 to 150 beds available, he added.
The state’s law to relieve congestion in prisons means many inmates are doing time in municipal and county jails.
Before the state law, the county had enough available beds to rent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, bringing in a much needed income of $25 million to $30 million annually, Kea said.
Hutchens may have to look at pulling back on her agreement with the federal government.
Certainly we’ll try to avoid reducing that contract for as long as we can,” Kea said. But at some point we’ll hit critical mass and the board will have a decision to make.
Kea said the public should not worry about the inmates Hutchens wants to place on home electronic monitoring. She told supervisors she imagined the felons would be charged with relatively minor crimes such as petty theft with a prior conviction.
–City News Service
County Supervisors Reassert Themselves on CalOptima
By NORBERTO SANTANA JR.
In the wake of a scathing federal audit of CalOptima, Orange Countys billion-dollar health care plan for the poor and elderly, county supervisors gave a clear indication Tuesday that they will move to blunt the influence of Supervisor Janet Nguyen on the agency.
After a tense hearing that stretched into the late afternoon, Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson announced that later this month supervisors will reconsider the ordinance change that swept Nguyen into power at CalOptima toward the end of 2011.
Nelson instructed county staff to place on the agenda CalOptimas entire governing ordinance, saying he wants to be able to take action later this month to change supervisors board appointments and the structure of CalOptimas other board membership, so we dont have limited options when we get here.
Even Nguyen herself on Tuesday called for all five county supervisors to sit on the CalOptima board.
The countys 2011 ordinance change, which increased representation on the board for medical providers and hospitals, at the time drew intense opposition from nonprofits and board members who feared it would leave those who use CalOptima’s services without a voice.
That measure passed on a 3-2 vote with Nelson and Supervisor John Moorlach going against then Supervisor Bill Campbell and Supervisor Pat Bates, who both backed Nugyens efforts to exert sole control over the CalOptima board.
In the months following the board reorganization, a number of CalOptima executives left the agency.
Throughout 2011, according to an internal review obtained by Voice of OC, executives were embroiled in an ongoing confrontation with CalOptimas chief lawyers, with the report concluding that the environment was toxic.
On Tuesday, CalOptima CEO Michael Schrader told the Board of Supervisors that executive exodus had an adverse impact on the agencys services, admitting under public questioning by Supervisor Todd Spitzer that the bad results on the federal audit were likely the result of the turmoil.
That turmoil definitely had an impact in terms of operational focus, Schrader said upon pressing from Spitzer.
He told Spitzer that after being hired, he spent his first six months stabilizing the organization and building a management team.
Yet throughout Tuesdays hearing, Schrader attempted to navigate between admitting deficiencies at CalOptima and downplaying their significance.
Schrader told supervisors that federal auditors had found numerous problems with CalOptima’s tracking of eligibility procedures and prescriptions with its pharmacy management company.
CalOptima historically didnt do enough. When I look at compliance, it didnt have people in right areas. It was smaller than it needed to be, Schrader said.
Supervisor John Moorlach asked Schrader whether federal auditors found symptoms of problems. Whats the disease? Moorlach asked.
Its lack of oversight by CalOptima, Schrader said. We need to take compliance much more seriously.
He told Moorlach that when the auditor looked at the networks, they found staff confusing CalOptima, MediCal, with commercial plans in terms of coverage.
Yet Schrader noted theres a big difference between health outcomes and administrative problems identified by the federal audit.
The audit is based on administrative procedures, he said.
Yet when pressed, he also made the connection between those procedures and services.
It matters to members, because if you dont follow those procedures, you end up creating unnecessary delays for members. Those administrative procedures matter, Shrader said.
Both Spitzer and Nelson, who are both attorneys, kept pressing for answers.
Its all about delivery of services to people who need medical attention, said a visibly irritated Spitzer as he pointed to a staff organizational chart that showed a lot of movement at the top levels of the organization.
You had complete management turmoil in the organization, Spitzer said, adding that appeals in the OneCare program audited by federal officials were going up in 2013.
Its a sign that something is going on here on how patients, clients, feels they are being treated by CalOptima, Spitzer said.
Appeals and grievances were trending up, said Schrader, acknowledging that many compliance officials at the agency were the same but had different bosses.
Nelson took it a step further, again directly pointing at the ordinance change that Bates, Nguyen and Campbell supported in 2011.
Thats part of the problem, Nelson said. What they were getting before was parental limits, then all of sudden all the providers integrate themselves into the board," Nelson said.
Suddenly, we got an auditor saying we got chaos on our hands. The two seem related, he said.
Nelson pointed to the numbers of complaints in the OneCare program audited by federal officials as a type of canary in a coal mine.
According to a Feb. 21, 2013, letter on CalOptima sent by Schrader to state Sen. Lou Correa that was referred to by both Spitzer and Nelson, greivances from consumers in the OneCare program went from 331 in 2011 to 452 in 2012. Appeals went from 189 in 2011 to 474 in 2012.
Meanwhile, provider appeals dropped, from 224 in 2011 to 201 in 2012.
What are the odds, the provider complaints went down and the members are screaming? Nelson said, referring to those numbers. Its almost predictable.
Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.
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