7 Hot Debates to Watch This Week

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Here’s a rundown of the main issues this week throughout Orange County.

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1. Company At Center of Fraud Claims Slated to Get Welfare Contract

Orange County supervisors are scheduled this week to grant a welfare management contract to a well-connected firm that was sued by the federal government for aiding an alleged Medicaid fraud scheme.

Virginia-based Maximus, Inc. was sued by federal prosecutors for allegedly helping Washington, D.C. city officials defraud Medicaid out of millions of dollars intended for foster children services.

The alleged scheme stretched all the way up to a Maximus vice president, prosecutors said.

The company ultimately settled the suit in 2007 for more than $30 million, deferring any criminal prosecution in the process.

Maximus was also the focus of controversy in California, where in 2010 it was revealed that positive drug and alcohol test results for more than 140 medical professionals were improperly discarded by a sub-subcontractor to the firm.

Maximus was paid $2.5 million per year by the state to run its alcohol and drug diversion program, and had subcontracted its drug testing to a Pennsylvania company, which in turn subcontracted to a firm in Kansas.

A state audit that year “found that Maximus does not always report positive drug tests to the appropriate board in a timely manner, meaning healthcare professionals can keep working even after positive tests,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The audit also found that in more than half the cases reviewed, Maximus did not keep enough records that established that substance-abusing healthcare professionals were complying with all terms of the program,” according to the report.

Following a bidding process in 2011, Orange County supervisors awarded Maximus a $4.9-million per year contract to provide case management for the county’s welfare-to-work program.

Maximus is slated to receive a new three-year contract Tuesday at an annual cost of $6.3 million.

Campaign records show Maximus as a generous contributor to all five county leaders scheduled to vote on its contract.

The company gave a maxed-out $1,700 contribution to Supervisor Janet Nguyen in August 2009, as well as $1,700 to Supervisor Pat Bates’ campaign in 2010.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s campaign received $1,800 from the firm in 2011, while Supervisor John Moorlach received a $1,000 contribution in 2011 and another $800 the following year.

For supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson, records show a $1,700 contribution in April 2010, another $1,700 in September 2010 and $1,800 in late June 2011.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 9:30 a.m.

2. A Threat to County Headquarters?

County leaders are scheduled to receive a closed-door briefing on a threat to the building where they work.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens plans to discuss “matters posing a threat to the security of the County Hall of Administration and other County buildings,” according to a memo she wrote last Thursday. Hutchens gave no further explanation.

The discussion is scheduled during Tuesday’s closed session meeting of county supervisors.

3. County Decides on Opening Labor Talks

County supervisors are slated to vote on opening up labor talks to the public.

Under the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, also known as COIN, county supervisors would be required to publicly report any offers and counteroffers discussed in closed session. Supervisors and their staff would also have to report any communication with employee representatives.

When a labor contract is proposed, the county Auditor-Controller would estimate the financial impact of its terms as well as the current contract’s terms, which would then be open to comment from labor groups and the public.

And a proposed labor contract, known as memorandums of understanding, would be posted to the county website at least seven days before it appears on the supervisors’ agenda.

The effort, led by County Supervisor John Moorlach, has drawn intense protests from union leaders who argue transparency in negotiations shouldn’t just be reserved for labor talks but should apply to all government contracting — including multi-million dollar computer contracts, development deals and land purchases.

The supervisors meeting starts Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

4. Alternative Marijuana Initiative in Santa Ana

The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday is set to consider a November ballot measure that would regulate and tax marijuana collectives.

The city measure is an alternative to another ballot initiative, sponsored by the collectives, which would allow marijuana collectives to operate, but virtually unregulated, according to a city staff report. The collective-backed initiative places no cap on the number of shops that can operate or restrict where they are located.

The city’s ballot measure would allow collectives only in industrial areas and with distance requirements from schools, parks and residential areas.

The Santa Ana City Council public meeting begins at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday. Click here to view the agenda. 

5. Anaheim Adopts New City Budget

The Anaheim City Council is set to adopt its $265.5 million general fund budget for the next fiscal year, with an emphasis on restoring public safety services to pre-recession levels.

As the economy improves and tax revenue increases – next year’s budget is a 3.5-percent increase over the current year – the city council at its last meeting adopted a policy to hire 10 more officers every year for the next four years.

The council’s budget session begins at 2 p.m. and to view the agenda, click here

6. Extra Funding for HIV/AIDS Housing

County officials are scheduled to vote on a funding boost that will provide transitional housing and medical case management for about 20 more people living with HIV/AIDS.

The $50,000 increase would go to a federal Housing and Urban Development program, administered by Santa Ana officials, that provides transitional housing and skills workshops for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS.

Goals of the program include medical care, housing stability and reducing chronic homelessness.

Next year’s funding would rise from $827,000 to $877,000, though the county staff report doesn’t explain who would cover the extra funding.

Additionally, homeless advocates have stressed the importance of collecting detailed data to help improve programs by showing what works and what doesn’t.

It’s unclear in the county staff report what type of data would be collected in the program.

The supervisors meeting starts Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

7. Fullerton Leaders to Replace Regional Water Official

The Fullerton City Council will select a replacement for Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald to serve as a director of Southern California’s largest water agency because her new job with the Curt Pringle & Associates lobbying firm created a conflict of interest.

Pringle is one of the most influential behind-the-scenes players in Orange County politics and his company’s clients include the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, as well as several smaller Orange County water agencies.

Fitzgerald joined Pringle’s firm as a vice president, according to the company web site, although it’s not clear when she started and no one from the firm was available Friday to discuss her employment.

The Pringle web site prominently lists her Fullerton city council connection to the Metropolitan Water District or MWD, which delivers water to about 17 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Separately, MWD is listed as one of Pringle’s clients.

“Curt Pringle & Associates has a competitive advantage in serving clients who seek to do business with state or local governments,” says the web site. “Each member of our team possesses and maintains extensive contacts with elected and appointed officials and government staff throughout the region to effectively communicate client objectives.”

Fitzgerald’s career in Republican politics includes serving as an aide to Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and running her own campaign fundraising business.

Pringle is a former mayor of Anaheim and member of the state Assembly, where he served as speaker for nearly a year in the mid-1990s. His influence is so strong that Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem Kris Murray, a Pringle ally, once referred to herself, Pringle and a few of their associates as “masters of the universe.”

Murray is the Anaheim representative on Metropolitan’s board of directors.

The Fullerton City Council meeting begins Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. To view the agenda, click here.

Major Meetings This Week:

Monday

Brea City Council 

Huntington Beach City Council 

La Habra City Council 

Los Alamitos City Council 

Mission Viejo City Council 

Rancho Santa Margarita City Council (Special Closed Session on Unspecific Topic) 

Tuesday

Orange County Board of Supervisors 

Anaheim City Council 

Costa Mesa City Council 

Dana Point City Council 

Fountain Valley City Council 

Fullerton City Council 

Laguna Beach City Council 

Laguna Niguel City Council 

Lake Forest City Council 

La Palma City Council 

Placentia City Council 

Santa Ana City Council 

San Clemente City Council 

San Juan Capistrano City Council 

Tustin City Council 

Yorba Linda City Council 

Wednesday

San Clemente City Council 

Westminster City Council 

Thursday

Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Legislative and Communications Committee 

San Juan Capistrano City Council (Budget Workshop) 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the federal program that Maximus was accused of defrauding, which is Medicaid.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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