MOORLACH UPDATE — Laws, Contracts and Costs — July 17, 2014

Articles discussing matters addressed at Tuesday’s Board meeting continue to appear. The first is in the Daily Pilot and Coastline Pilot. It addresses a new ordinance proposed to solve a very obscure and rare occurrence. One would think that there are already laws on the books to solve this matter, as the District Attorney’s office has expended considerable resources in investigating the matter, including visiting petition signers late in the evening (with one or more investigators) at their personal residences. All the same, here is the historical perspective. The Assessor, just like his predecessor, decided against rerunning two weeks before the filing deadline. Many serious county observers took a look at the announced candidates and panicked. They were unable to convince other more qualified individuals to run and pleaded with the Assessor to rerun. Webster Guillory then pulled papers on or near the last day and walked the Civic Center for signatures.

There are two types of department heads in county government: appointed and elected. It is always a little scary for employees when a department head retires and a new one is selected by the County’s Executive Officer or by the Board of Supervisors (depending on the governing authority that determines who is responsible for the appointment). It’s a little different and perhaps scarier for employees who work for an elected department head (of which I have a little experience). These employees will get someone that the voters give them and they will be stuck with that person, for good or for bad, for a minimum of four years. Consequently, many employees would gladly sign Webster Guillory’s petition anytime and anywhere to retain him as their boss. They would prefer to keep the status quo versus the anxiety of the unknown. The only thing that is being differentiated with this new ordinance is that the signer should do it outside of county buildings. This would comport with a traditional understanding of the procedures and strikes me as spending a significant amount of Board time on a miniscule matter. I want to thank our Assessor for his many years of distinguished service to the County of Orange. It was a privilege to work with him for the eight years we were both serving together as countywide elected officials.

The Daily Pilot and the Voice of OC provide perspectives on the AOCDS contract vote (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pythons’ Tightening Grips — July 15, 2014 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Homeless Shelter, et al — July 16, 2014) in the next two pieces.

In the fourth and final piece, the Voice of OC addresses a recent legal settlement approved by the Board of Supervisors. Here is my attempt to recall the history of the issue. Due to the Carlos Bustamante criminal case being conducted by the District Attorney, the Board of Supervisors was advised that certain documents could not be released in response to a California Public Records Act request. However, a judge later ruled that certain documents, if redactions were made, could be released. Consequently, this was done for a very few of the documents that were requested. Although ruling favorably on behalf of the requestor, providing a very small fractional victory, the judge ruled that the requestor could be reimbursed in full for its legal fees. It is a shame that the taxpayers have to make this payment. It brings back an old phrase used in other instances, and I paraphrase, “Carlos Bustamante is becoming the gift that keeps on giving.”

Law aimed at campaign signatures moves forward

An ordinance barring county employees from gathering campaign signatures in the workplace was pushed forward Tuesday.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors, in a 4 to 1 vote, decided to send the measure to a second reading.

Supervisor John Moorlach dissented.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer proposed the rule after allegations emerged that county Assessor Webster Guillory had gathered employee signatures for his reelection nomination papers during work time — although Spitzer has stressed that the measure is aimed more at preventing bad behavior in the future than at bringing down the hammer on rule-breakers.

Campaigning in the workplace, he said, is just inappropriate.

"It’s intimidating," he said when reached Wednesday. "What employee in their right mind would say no to somebody who was either their boss or could possibly become their boss?"

But Moorlach said Wednesday that Guillory’s alleged conduct marked a "once in a quasquicentennial occurrence" and therefore didn’t merit a whole new law.

He added that if an employee is happy with a boss, then he or she should have ample opportunity to support that person without onerous regulation.

"I thought it was a little bit of overkill," Moorlach said.

—Jill Cowan

County approves sheriff’s contract

By a 3 to 2 vote Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a new two-year contract for sheriff’s deputies and district attorney’s office investigators.

Supervisors Todd Spitzer, Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen voted yes, while Supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach voted against the agreement with the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

The move follows 23 months of arduous negotiations, which ended with a contract that requires, among other provisions, that employees pick up their entire pension contribution share starting in July of next year — a hardline bargaining point for the county throughout the process.

The increase approximately doubles the percentage of salaries that will go toward retirement — from 7% to about 14%, officials said.

However, to help offset that hit, the contract also includes a 3% raise when the pension contribution bump takes place in July 2015.

According to a staff report, the agreement will save the county about $22.6 million over its term.

While some, including Moorlach, have expressed concern that the contract will prove too expensive as the county continues to deal with a tough financial situation, sheriff’s department officials cautioned that without competitive salaries and benefits, the department risks having deputies lured away by nearby law enforcement agencies.

Ultimately, though, department officials called the deal fair, and urged the board to pass it.

The association represents about 2,040 employees in nine peace officer classifications.

The new contract is in effect through June 30, 2016.

—Jill Cowan

Divided Supervisors Approve Contract for Deputy Sheriffs

By NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

A sharply divided Orange County board of supervisors Tuesday, on a 3-2 vote, approved a two-year labor contract for more than 2,000 deputy sheriffs working throughout the county jails and patrolling local communities.

The deputies’ contract became controversial because of allegations of pension spiking from Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach, who voted against the labor pact.

Both supervisors took issue with the deal ultimately approved privately saying that deputies got too much of a salary offset in the negotiations, making a mockery of the requirement that they pay more into their pensions.

The county approach to negotiations with sheriff deputies, offsetting higher pension payments with salary increases, is a concept that supervisors rejected in other labor negotiations.

Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, publicly disputed Nelson and Moorlach’s claims, saying they had “mischaracterized” the trade offs as pension spikes.

Dominguez said deputy sheriffs still lagged in medical coverage behind other workers, criticized the requirement to pay full pension share as too fast and reminded supervisors that the contract was not popular with rank and file deputies.

County officials now pay the equivalent of about 60 percent of a deputy’s salary to their pension contributions and the county’s unfunded pension liability is past the $5 billion mark.

That has put significant strain on both the county budget and salary talks.

According to the county staff report, the net estimated impact of the term of the two-year contract would be a total cost to taxpayers of $14.7 million, making it the most expensive labor contract at the county.

For comparison, the deal recently reached with 12,000 general county workers carried a cost of $22 million over three years. According to sources knowledgeable about the county budget, the salary concessions to deputies will present challenges next year as many one-time revenue enhancements were utilized to keep this budget cycle balanced.

Supervisors Todd Spitzer, Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen on Tuesday supported the deal with the deputies saying it was competitive with what’s being done in other counties and would avoid Orange County losing good deputies to other places that pay better.

Of that group, only Spitzer – rumored to be gearing up for a run for district attorney in 2018 – will have to potentially deal with the budgetary implications as both Bates and Nguyen are running for the state senate.

Moorlach and Nelson – both visibly demoralized on Tuesday – largely stood alone in their opposition to the deal, with several elected officials and candidates – State Senator Mimi Walters and Assemblywoman Diane Harkey – sending representatives to the public podium Tuesday to speak in support.

The Orange County Register’s editorial page also took issue with the concessions in the contract concluding, “this deal is not in the best interest of the community.”

Later in the day, Moorlach wrote in his "Moorlach Update" newsletter entitled "Python’s Tightening Grips" that "increased salaries will mean increased pension liabilities."

Although Nelson voted against the deal, Walters, in a statement, credited him for a “monumental” achievement in getting the deputies to pay into their pensions like every other employee.

Even Orange County’s conservative Lincoln Club – which has been very vocal about the county’s unfunded pension liability – remained silent on the issue, with President Wayne Lindholm avoiding comment.

Both Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas publicly supported the deal, arguing that low crime rates and public safety compensation are connected.

“Safety and security comes at a cost,” Hutchens said in a prepared statement.

Only one candidate running for one of two open county supervisor seats in November chimed in on the issue.

State Assemblyman Alan Mansoor – running to replace Moorlach as 2nd District Supervisor – stood firmly and vocally with Moorlach saying he would not support raising deputy salaries to match heightened pension contributions.

His opponent, State Board of Equalization Board Member Michelle Steel – who already received campaign support from the deputy’s union – remained silent when asked her opinion of the deal.

That position is similar to the answers given during the Feet to the Fire debate on the race earlier this year.

In the 5th District, the silence was similar.

Dana Point Mayor Lisa Bartlett didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.

Laguna Niguel Mayor Robert Ming danced around the issue offering a roundabout comment.

"I wasn’t part of this process so I can’t comment on how we got here, but I can certainly share how I would approach things next time. We need a long-term fix for how pensions are funded so we don’t end up underfunded again. We also need to attract and retain quality deputies. My South County cities expect a high quality of service from the sheriff so we can’t expect to pay total compensation at the bottom of the barrel, but many cities are struggling financially too, just like the county. Every dollar in increased sheriff contract costs comes out of parks, streets and other city programs. Finding the right balance won’t be easy, but those are the things I’ll be focused on."

The trade-off negotiated after two years of private talks that got deputies to pay their full employee share of their annual pension in year two of their contract came in exchange for a three percent salary raise, another potential 5.5 percent salary hike through step increases for senior deputies and enhancements to health care as well as retiree medical coverage.

With the deputies now agreeing to pay their full employee share of their annual pension payment, every public worker at the county would be paying their full share of pension obligations by 2015.

County Pays $120K to Cover Costs of Records Battle With Voice of OC

By TRACY WOOD

Orange County Supervisors this month paid out $120,905 to Voice of OC attorneys, under a court order requiring them to cover court costs accrued during the news organization’s successful two-year public records battle over documents relating to the county’s investigation into allegations that former Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante sexually assaulted women who worked for him.

In December, Orange County Superior Court David T. McEachen ordered the county to make public more than two-dozen sets of documents that shed some light on how officials handled the internal investigation into Bustamante’s alleged actions.

It was the culmination of a two-year open records case brought against the county by Voice of OC and open-government advocate Californians Aware.

“It’s disheartening to see county supervisors waste more than $120,000 in taxpayer dollars to keep documents secret that the public clearly has a right to see,” said Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana Jr.

Only one supervisor responded to calls seeking comment.

Supervisor John Moorlach said he was following the advice of county lawyers when he supported other supervisors in trying to keep the records from being disclosed.

“We were advised (by county counsel) that because it (the Bustamante case) was of a criminal nature, we should not release it,” said Moorlach. “It seemed like it was good advice.”

Two supervisors – Janet Nguyen and Pat Bates – are also seeking state senate seats in the upcoming November general election and Nguyen’s race is a hotly contested race with statewide implications.

Numerous other records sought by Voice of OC remain sealed because of a judicial ruling that they stay blocked until the conclusion of the ongoing criminal case against Bustamante, who was also a Santa Ana councilman.

Bustamante, whose next Superior Court appearance is scheduled for August 15, is awaiting trial on both felony and misdemeanor sex crime charges.

When allegations of Bustamante’s actions first surfaced in a 2011 report, he was allowed to resign with three months severance pay. It wasn’t until nearly six months later that county leaders referred the case to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution.

Ultimately several top county executives, including then CEO Tom Mauk, resigned or were fired and the human resources department was reorganized.

The document originally sought by Voice of OC was a claim letter sent by fired Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis in the summer of 2012, which alleged a host of complaints against county officials and the Board of Supervisors.

Drakodaidis recently filed suit against the county.

Other documents still under seal pending the outcome of the Bustamente case are expected to shed light on what top county leaders, including then-members of the Board of Supervisors, knew about Bustamante’s alleged harassment, when they knew it and what they did about it.

Santana said Voice of OC would seek to make all those records public as soon as the Bustamante case is resolved.

“We will remain vigilant,” he said. “Count on it.”

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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