Santana: Bartlett Meets the OC Old Boy Network

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With Orange County supervisors scheduled this week to appoint Lisa Bartlett as the board’s first female chairperson in a half dozen years, there already appear to be some old boy network issues arising to confront her.

The main political plumb provided in the past to board chairs has been the task of making appointments to regional agencies – such as the lucrative Air Quality Management District and proposing countywide board appointments – such as the powerful Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS).

Bartlett – who has yet to be formally voted in – has apparently already lost that power.

The OCERS slot is particularly interesting given that Orange County’s conservative Lincoln Club – and their president Wayne Lindholm (the current appointee and ultimate old boy) – stood against Bartlett in her 2014 supervisors’ election backing instead then-Laguna Niguel Mayor Robert Ming.

Ming and Lindholm’s wife, Linda, were colleagues at the time on the Laguna Niguel City Council.

Appointments are among the most direct impacts from elections, especially at the local level.

Bartlett was reportedly moving to suggest Mission Viejo Councilman Frank Ury – who also ran for supervisor in 2014 but backed her after coming in third during the primary – for the OCERS board slot.

Stanton City Councilman Dave Shawver – who has been vocal that the OCERS board should have more representation from cities that contract with the county for law enforcement – also was reportedly seeking the seat.

Yet Supervisor Andrew Do reportedly swooped in on Friday and formally proposed keeping Lindholm.

Do – who is running for reelection this year and is presumably looking for Lincoln Club support against a potential Democratic challenger from Santa Ana (Councilman Vince Sarmiento?) – has agendized a vote to reappoint Lindholm to another three-year term to OCERS.

That move would apparently buck past practice — with former chairs proposing the OCERS appointment and the full board ratifying.

Lindholm was last appointed in 2013 during the chairmanship of Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

Neither Bartlett, nor Do, nor Lindholm returned my calls for comment late last week with things reportedly tense on the fifth floor of the Hall of Administration over the issue.

Should provide some good drama on Tuesday.

There have even been some rumblings that Bartlett could be blocked from the board’s top slot, with current Chairman Todd Spitzer attempting to retain the chairmanship for another year — a rarity that last happened to Supervisor Shawn Nelson a few years ago (another female supervisor – Pat Bates – was passed over that year).

Spitzer this week is returning from a family vacation and has not been available for comment.

Bartlett is reportedly trading the Lindholm appointment to hold on to her position as chair.

Lindholm has been controversial on the retirement board since he was appointed.

He has largely led a majority contingent on the OCERS board voting for more conservative investment return assumptions at every opportunity regarding the county’s large unfunded liability for public sector pensions.

That has triggered significant tension with public sector labor leaders – especially in public safety – who argue that Lindholm’s logic costs taxpayers more, not because it’s necessary but because its become an ideological sport in Orange County like no other place in the state.

Many labor leaders argue that OCERS investments have performed well throughout the decade, even with the Great Recession.

Yet Lindholm and many Republican supporters argue that investment returns are in a historic slump and could get worse. The only way to make up the difference on the unfunded liability is to pump cash into the system.

That logic means employers like the county and their employees would have to keep kicking in more money to fund their pension benefits.

Lindholm and county supervisors like Nelson argue that’s necessary and fair because of the concept of intergenerational equity – meaning the current generation of workers doesn’t kick pension debt to their children.

“The people who are closest to retirement want us to take the biggest bite (into the unfunded liability) later, after they retire,” Nelson argues.

Nelson notes that solid investment gurus like Warren Buffet argue that the investment return assumptions public sector pensions should be significantly lower.

“Warren Buffet, a Democrat who I think should be trusted, says that anything over six percent (assumption on investment returns) is dangerous,” Nelson said. “Forget Wayne and everybody on the board as far as I’m concerned. I think Buffet should be listened to: Anything over six percent is a bad idea.”

Last week, Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker sent out an email to the party ranks calling for a full-court press on Lindholm.

“Wayne’s appointment is up for renewal next Tuesday and the public employee unions are pushing hard to remove him from the board. Through his efforts he has helped save the county $1 Billion by changing the amortization and paying down unfunded liabilities!” Whitaker wrote.

He continued: “[Do] has courageously placed an item on the Board of Supervisors agenda next week to renew Wayne’s appointment for another 3 years. We need your help in contacting each of the County Supervisors and urging them to support Supervisor Do’s item to reappoint Wayne as the solid conservative voice on the OCERS Board.”

Yet adjusting assumptions on things like investments and worker life spans costs more now – and it impacts public safety more than most because of the size of pension benefits for deputies and the fact that many Orange County cities contract with those services through the Sheriff’s Department.

Most public safety union officials warn elected officials that to move toward more conservative assumptions on pensions threatens public safety.

“Reappointing Wayne Lindholm to the OCERS Board of Retirement is akin to appointing the fox to guard the henhouse. The only representation Orange County contract cities have on the OCERS board is when they write the checks to pay for the increased costs Lindholm and the Lincoln Club championed,” said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

“It’s easy to vote under a warped facade of “fiscal conservatism” to increase costs deliberately and unnecessarily to the taxpayers when you aren’t the one footing the bill,” Dominguez said. “By day Lindholm claims to be a champion of OCERS retirees by carrying out his duty as a trustee to protect the retirement system. But by night Lindholm and his old guard Lincoln Club patiently work to destroy the very system he is sworn to protect, a system that thousands of deputy sheriffs, firefighters and retirees depend on. It’s time for fiscally responsible appointees on the OCERS Board.”

Yet politics is often all smoke and mirrors.

And when it comes to pensions, there’s plenty of that in OC.

A few years back, when  supervisors gave deputies a pay raise to offset their new commitment to pay into their pensions, people like Lindholm went silent while elected officials like Nelson protested that action calling it fake conservatism.

That was the same cycle when Lindholm’s wife, Linda, ran as a fiscal conservative to the county board of education.

Even when Nelson – who recently got his own controversial government pension – is asked about the budget earthquake that would occur for government services should the OCERS investment assumption be placed at six percent as he suggests, he backs up immediately saying the number is only for arguments sake.

Correction:A previous version of this story identified Wayne Lindholm as the nominee of former Supervisor John Moorlach. We regret the error.

  • occynic

    How was Do able to put this appointment on the agenda? Seems odd that there isn’t a protocol for county appointments…or is there and it was ignored.

  • David Zenger

    If I were Bartlett, I’d spend my time trying to figure out how $15,000,000 has been spent on the Dana Point Harbor “Revitalization” over 12 years with nothing to show for it.

  • LFOldTimer

    The DOW is down another 100 points today. The index is now at about 16,200. heh. Prepare for the index to fall to 11,000 in 2016. The stick save using quanititative easing (money printing to benefit the banks) and artificially low interest rates for the last 8 years – resulting in exponential debt increases ($10 trillion more in Fed debt in the last 8 years for a total of about $19 trillion today) is going to eventually detonate the economic system. So it really doesn’t matter who sits on your stupid OCERS board. We’ve gone beyond the point of no return. The pension system is going to explode, particularly with the all the baby boomers retiring with the 3%@50 pensions. heh. Go look at the OCERS ROI for last year. heh. Single digits (under 5%). Pathetic. Plus with the new accounting changes the contract cities are going to have to fork over a HUGE increase in contributions. The assumption should be about 5% going forward. When they miss those targets more pressure is placed on the cities to make up the difference. It will be unaffordable. And the citizens will refuse to pay more in order to support a bunch of goofballs retiring at 55 with $110,000 or more in annual pensions. The entire system will eventually collapse. Oh, and don’t forget about the OCERS actuary’s faulty assumption on the public safety death rate that adds another $12M in understated costs to the contract cities for 2016. Did you forget about that? There is no way around a collapse now. It’s baked in the cake. But OCSD propogandist Tom Dominguez won’t tell you the truth like I will. So you might as well vote for Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck to sit on your stupid OCERS board. It won’t make a damn bit of difference at this point. Oh, and Bartlett? ha. Don’t make me puke. Bartlett is a ‘go along to get along’ girl. She’ll do whatever she’s told to do by those in the County executive offices who pull her strings. Look at her voting record. Just another puppet who’s into “self-interest”, not what’s in the “best interests” for the County residents and taxpayers. I predict that the OCERS unfunded liability will be $8 to $10 billion by the end of 2016. Mark my words. The pension system will collapse financially in the next 5 years. It’s unsustainable. If you try raise taxes exponentially on the County taxpayers to keep it from flatlining I predict you will see taxpayers carrying torches and pitchforks in the streets. I’m not endorsing that. I’m only predicting what will eventually happen. The state electeds (to include Bill Campbell and Pat Bates) opened up the barn doors in year 1999 when they passed SB 400 which allowed the 3%@50 pensions. Spitzer voted to roll it out on a County level as a BoS member in year 2000-01. The horses escaped and by this time are long gone, never to be found again. Deal with it!!!

    • Jacki Livingston

      I find everything you wrote to be really interesting, and so true! Bartlett would not even return the calls of either myself or the investigator from the Feds, when we were trying to show her the information about the nursing home sleaze going on. Her response was that she would “leave it to those who know more”, meaning Spitzer and Nelson, and clearly they were on the take. I don’t know what it will take for OC to clean up their political act, but I suspect it will be like the City of Bell scandal, years ago.

  • Paul Lucas

    You seem to believe that Lou Correa will not try to run again against do using a different strategy. I mean it is possible he may drop out of the congressional race to run for BOS again.

    • LFOldTimer

      Correa would only be a very small spoke in a big wheel in the Federal government. He could cause very little damage to the overall system as a Federal elected. So I pray he stays there. As a County elected he could cause extensive damage on a local level – something we don’t need at all. The others are doing a fine job at putting the County in future danger. They sure don’t need Correa’s help. He could likely end up being the straw that broke the camel’s back.

      • Paul Lucas

        I don’t want him in DC either. I wish I had access o an overlay of the CD district over the 1st BOS district voter turnout

      • Paul Lucas

        I can safely say that Lou Correa is a reliable disappointment.

        • LFOldTimer

          Eventually all of them turn out to be disappointments, Paul. And disappointment doesn’t discriminate according to political party either. You can be just as disappointed by a Democrat as by a Republican. The propensity of disappointment generally increases with the length of time the pol has held office. After awhile they couldn’t care less what you think of them. At that point they grab as much as they can while performing the least amount of service possible. Take it from me. I’ve been watching this sordid game for years. About the only way it could change would be by a revolution. I’m not condoning that by any means. I would much rather have what we have today than risking a move to return to what the Founding Fathers envisioned. Trust me. Things never work out that smoothly and we’d probably end up with a dictatorship and forced servitude. But we’re not going to change much of anything at the ballot box, unfortunately. That’s obvious. The average voter is just too darned stupid. The pols have a 15% approval rating yet 95% of the incumbents are reelected. Go figure. That’s a result of moronic voters.

          • Jacki Livingston

            You and I often disagree, but on this, I am with you. We need to set a limit as to how much money any candidate can spend or raise. We need to take wealth out of elections, and find people who truly want to serve. I cannot think of a single member of the Gang o’Five that fills that bill, nor, to be honest, any of the top directors of agencies, DA or any other officials in power in the County. You want to see a real sleaze in action? Check out the head of the SSA. He is a real piece of work.