Voice of OC’s Top Stories of 2014

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Voice of OC continued in 2014 to impact Orange County government and politics at all levels — from cities to county government to school districts. Below are our staff’s top picks for our most high impact investigations this year.

Mayor Pulido’s Property Swap

Our investigation into a controversial property swap by Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido with a city contractor triggered a host of local, state and federal investigations this year.

An investigative report by former Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask, commissioned by the city of Santa Ana and made public only under the threat of a lawsuit by Voice of OC, concluded that the 10-term mayor broke the state’s 1974 Political Reform Act on multiple occasions.

More grave is Trask’s conclusion that the property deal would very likely constitute a willful violation of state laws that could earn Pulido prison time and bar him from holding public office.

Yet Pulido again demonstrated his longevity in November when he won an eleventh mayoral term by a 20-point margin.

Investigations Into Top County Officials

This year, our reporters also alerted the public to more than a million dollars in questionable no-bid contracts at the county Parks department involving friends of top officials.

County officials have now engaged an outside attorney to review the actions of Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny, who was the head of the Parks department at the time, and other officials.

With Denny slated to take over as CEO early next year, the story has important implications and continues to heat up.

It’s the second, known ongoing probe into a county official, with Brian Probolsky, a top aide to Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and elected member of the Moulton Niguel Water District, is also under investigation by county Human Resources.

Big Money in Local Elections

In the lead-up to the November election, our reporters gave the public a glimpse of how business and special interests influence elections.

This year Disney doubled what it spent on elections in 2012, pouring at least $671,000 into political action committees financing Anaheim city council campaigns and tens of thousands more into an initiative aimed at changing the city’s electoral system, according to a Voice of OC analysis.

In Irvine, a slew of political action committees spent hundreds of thousands of dollars,funneled through a circuitous route, to keep the city council’s Republican majority in power.

Voice of OC also followed independent expenditures pouring into races from committees and parties across the state, often making it difficult to track the original donors.

Many county-level parties outside of Orange County received big donations from well-heeled donors, with much of that money eventually making its way into the races for the 34th state Senate and 65th state Assembly races.

With Democrats’ supermajority at play, candidates on both sides of the aisle attracted big money previously unseen in local races.

Most Popular Stories by Month

January

Judge Orders County Release of Bustamante Records in Voice of OC Lawsuit

Auditor Details Waste and Abuse in Great Park Development

CalOptima Slammed by U.S. Audit

Jury Finds Fullerton Officers Not Guilty in Thomas Beating

OC Sheriff Deputies Labor Talks Coverage

February

New Santora Owner Deals Blow to Santa Ana’s Underground

FPPC Investigating Santa Ana Mayor’s Property Swap

Court Opens Records Alleging Improper Jailhouse Informants

County COO Moved Out of Supervising Registrar of Voters

March

Conflict Questions Cloud Report on Angels’ Economic Impact

State Auditors Slam CalOptima

Sen. Yee’s Talk on Campaign Cash

April

May

Problems in OC Child Welfare System Get Statewide Scrutiny

Residents Clean Neglected County War Memorial

Judge: County Acted in ‘Bad Faith’ During Attorney Labor Talks

Assessor Signatures for Nomination Come Under Focus

June

Bustamante Lawyer Says County Officials Set Him Up

Murder Conviction Vacated After DA’s Jailhouse Informant Network Exposed

Embattled Fire Chief Resigns Post

July

Spitzer Draws Fire for Unauthorized Contracts to Campaign Consultant

Consultant Ties Show Potential Conflicts in OCFA’s Highest Ranks

Great Park Boss: Consultants’ Power Over Public Officials ‘Was Just Wrong’

Judge: Activist Was Apparently Subject of Unlawful Search

County HR Investigates Top Exec for Timecard Fraud

County Pays Voice of OC $120K for Records Lawsuit Loss

August

Feds Arrest Santa Ana Police Beating Suspect on His Way to Court

OC Parks Exec Steered Nearly $1 Million in Contracts to Friend

Fire Authority’s Management Failures Run Deeper Than Audit Revealed

September

Mr. Mayor, What Are You Looking At?

October

Santa Ana Mayor Cancels Meeting After Battle With Activists

FBI: Santa Ana Police Committed Crime Against Edgar Vargas

Nguyen Campaign Donors Face Money Laundering Investigation

November

Nguyen Takes 34th State Senate Seat

Bates Gives Her Chief of Staff Controversial Raise

Amid Backlash From Residents, Garden Grove City Manager Steps Down

December

Xerox Accused of Failing to Deliver on Multi-Million County Tech Contract

For Janet Nguyen, This House Has Been a Cash Cow

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