Santana: County Supervisors Need to Start Supervising

The scene Sunday at the bus terminal in Santa Ana, which was opened over the weekend to provide shelter for homeless people.

Norberto Santana Jr./Voice of OC

The scene Sunday at the bus terminal in Santa Ana, which was opened over the weekend to provide shelter for homeless people.

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Now that Orange County’s media-blitzed jail escapees are behind bars, county supervisors should start asking some hard questions, in public, about how Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ jail is being run.

Although I doubt it will happen.

We don’t do hard questions in the OC.

I’m starting to wonder whether any top county government official in Orange County will ever be publicly held accountable for anything – whether it’s a crisis at the DA, feckless county responses to issues like homelessness or animal shelters, or now, even basic jail security.

Last month we watched our top local law enforcement official — District Attorney Tony Rackauckas — call for a federal probe of his own shop because people are apparently afraid of telling him the truth.

Is Hutchens in the same boat?

She came to Orange County in 2008, a former top lieutenant to former LA Sheriff Lee Baca, as an outsider following the indictment of former Sheriff Mike Carona. She was billed as someone who could change a lax jail culture exposed by the 2006 jailhouse beating of John Derek Chamberlain.

Carona ironically is rounding third base on his jail sentence just about now. Baca blew up politically in LA and has since retired amidst a mass of fraud, waste and abuse allegations.

In the meantime, Hutchens padded up a good-sized command staff around the idea of beefing up accountability and supposedly instituted a culture of following the rules.

County supervisors touted themselves for instituting the Office of Independent Review at the Sheriff’s Department – now in the works to be expanded across several agencies including the DA – to supposedly look at the jails and coordinate with an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice review.

And then these three convicts go rappelling out the very front of the jail and are long gone before anybody notices…

I’m already hearing rumblings that Hutchens’ command staff may not have been following department policies on prisoner headcounts – even though they were warned on the record.

I have yet to hear a word from OIR on that issue.

County supervisors have supposedly gotten some private updates.

But County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who has consistently voted against funding OIR, said the briefings are a zero on the jail escape so far.

“OIR will never ask a hard question or expose anything that puts the sheriff in an awkward position. So what’s the point?” Nelson said.

“They have given some updates,” Nelson said. “It’s a reciting of KFI (radio) and the (OC) Register.”

The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS) recently disclosed a letter sent to Hutchens from its President Tom Dominguez putting her on notice that deputies were told to ignore policies on head counts by Hutchens’ command staff.

Dominguez’s letter points to official email traffic documenting the back and forth on headcounts (which I’ve asked to review).

Click here to read the AOCDS letter.

The deputies’ union has called on jail commander Capt. Chris Wilson to resign his command.

Wilson was the lowest-rated manager by the rank and file in the Sheriff’s Department based on a recent survey of deputies.

At this point, it’s unclear whether Wilson has been relieved.

According to sources, Wilson was last seen on shift Friday but wasn’t reportedly scheduled to work over the weekend. Some deputies are being told he’s off on a few days vacation while others are hearing he’s on administrative leave. Others have been told that Lt. Rob Gardner is in charge of the jails now.

When asked about the AOCDS letter, Hutchens responded promptly responded but wasn’t very clear.

“I have been very clear from the onset of the jail escape investigation that I am deeply concerned about the length of time it took to recognize that three maximum security inmates were unaccounted for,” Hutchens wrote.

“I have initiated an internal administrative investigation to determine the facts of what occurred, contributing factors to the escape and inmate count procedures. Until the investigation is complete, I am unable to discuss further. Please know that we have taken immediate action to ensure that this situation will not happen again, and that the safety of our community is my highest priority. There have been no personnel changes as of this time.”

That’s standard fare in government circles.

Don’t rush to judge.

Yet more and more that’s morphing into don’t even go back to judge.

Bus Terminal Update

Expect what you inspect.

That’s what I was thinking this weekend when it started to rain and I took my seven year-old son, Maximo, to witness the county’s homeless response to cold weather at the newly opened Santa Ana Transit Terminal at downtown Santa Ana’s civic center.

It took him ten seconds to pierce a hole in the county plan with a good question – given that county supervisors authorized $500,000 for cold weather sheltering this year.

“Where are the heating lamps?” asked the boy immediately as he entered the frigid $3.2 million bus terminal taxpayers just bought last month to help shelter and address the civic center homeless population. “Where are the beds?”

DSC_0251

For most of the week, I kept asking executives what were the plans to convince the hundreds of homeless at the civic center that there’s hope at the bus terminal.

They assured me that OC Community Services head Karen Roper and her executive team were on it, assured me that Mercy House is a contractor with experience.

Our elected officials always have such an enduring faith in government executives.

Yet with all due respect to all these officials, the scene at the bus terminal this weekend wasn’t very welcoming and the area looked totally slapped together.

A few tables with snacks, some thin sleeping mats and a security-wand welcome that was accepted by just a few of the hundreds who were just strewn across the terminal sleeping in a makeshift arrangement.

DSC_0258

One worker told me 198 people had come through but even he admitted few were staying.

From what I was told, the wand welcome is the standard approach used at the armories operated by Mercy House but nowhere near what it will take at the civic center to change things, much less convince people to abandon the lawless tent city that has sprung up.

DSC_0252

Despite the nice press release by county supervisors – choc full of heartfelt remarks – I wonder, did any venture out there this weekend?

Did any of our six-figure county executives make their way out there to see how the most vulnerable made it through the rain?

The entrance to the bus terminal sure didn’t feel like any did.

Hundreds stayed in makeshift tents throughout the civic center in the weekend rain.

And that’s a total failure.

It took my seven year-old ten seconds to realize that.

How long will it take Orange County’s $6 billion county government to do the same?

  • Bert Ashland

    Norberto you are starting to sound like a socialist.

    • RyanCantor

      FEEL THE BERN!

    • Paul Lucas

      hes feelin the BERN lol

  • Paul Lucas

    “I’m starting to wonder whether any top county government official in Orange County will ever be publicly held accountable for anything – ”
    Have you ever seen any official being held accountable that WASNT a PR stunt or outright vengence before? Please see Webster Guillroy (revenge for Papi Pulido) and Busty (pure show trial).

  • Jacki Livingston

    No, Norberto, they won’t. Not by you. Not by the Register, or the Times. No one gives a tiny rat’s behind about just exactly how corrupt these people are. Not one of them care. Let’s do roll call, shall we? Ignoring the homeless? High kill rates at the animal shelter that would make Dr. Mengele proud? Sexual misconduct by senior management? Abuse of whistleblowers? Nursing home patients being stolen from, abused and killed? Cronyism that is laughable? Bribes and money laundering?

    But, before you wag your finger at others, you better check the mirror, dude. Numerous county staff members have come to you. They have faxed and dropped off or mailed internal documents showing serious misconduct. You do nothing. So what does that make you? Truth teller? No…you are part of the problem. Look, I know everyone wants to be popular. You don’t want all of the managers slamming the door in your face, like TRack’s toddler assistant. But truth is not being told, because YOU ARE NOT TELLING IT! For pity’s sake! How many county employees need to show you definitive proof of a problem before you get up off your duff and do something? The powers that be know that VoC and you are just paper tigers. All menacing looks, but no bite. Telling the truth is risky. You end up out in the cold, and people will abandon you. But if this page is a fluff PR page for the corrupt and the stupid, cool. You do you, boo. But don’t raise money and puff up your chest and act like you are making change if all you do is the occasional “Bad Supervisor, no Starbucks cookie for YOU!”. That, just like Nelson’s fund raising with a BoS account, is false advertising and fraud, raising money under false pretense. Either get serious and respond to people who risk it all to give you the truth, or merge with the OC Register. In short, quit whining and grow a pair.

    • Paul Lucas

      Someone needs a hug and a nap. :o)

      • LFOldTimer

        What she says has some truth to it. VOC is probably the best investigative political blog we have in The OC. But that doesn’t mean they don’t drop the ball now and then. This is the first time I’ve seen VOC blast Hutchens, even though there’s been a ton of material to write about over the years. Whether we want to accept it or not, the media is controlled by certain power brokers in County government to one degree or another. Some much more than others. One reason you never hear a sports reporter trash a popular pro athlete is because he’d get blackballed from the locker rooms when a big story goes down. And that would be the end of his gig. Also, in the media you have to follow the money trail just like in political circles. Money can either shut an editor up or make him spin the article in favor of the sugar daddy. Anybody who believes otherwise is either incredibly naive or intentionally stupid. Jacki doesn’t hold back. Sure, some is emotion. But there’s a dose of truth in what she says too. But you have to have an open mind to see it.

        • Jacki Livingston

          Thanks. I made forty two grand a year, with a bachelor’s degree, and I earned every nickel. I have never pretended to be anything but what I am. I don’t pretend to be a champion of truth to raise money…that is their specialty.

        • Paul Lucas

          I think you are wrong in hinting that VOC has obfucscated any journalistic integrity. I would however say that assigning the DA snitch scandal and its associated subjects (OC sheriff, Courts Jails and Hutchens) to a writer n San Diego is a bad idea. in my opinion that has created the type pf stories that can only be stitched together form reports of other writers on this story. The VOC needs a local investigative reporter n the ground in the immediate area to get up to date and in depth reporting on the subject. Not stitching together pieces of other reports.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Someone needs a pair, but I don’t think that is my domain. And what LTOT says is true. I am still emotional about what happened. Unlike all of the powers that be, I went into public service to serve the taxpayers who paid my salary. I did not go into it to serve myself. I get emotional about people who were my responsibility. I won’t apologize for that. I have a real problem with political aides embezzling money from helpless people who cannot defend themselves. Fortunately for me, judging by the Fed who interviewed me yesterday, they have a problem with that, too. It took them long enough, but it looks like payback is coming down with a heaping helping of justice. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of dirtbags.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Now, cooled off, a more considered reply. :O)

        Paul, I watched people who were helpless to defend themselves being assaulted, robbed, used and killed, through what I thought was oversight by county officials. After six years of investigating and document gathering and fact finding, I found links between people like Spitzer, Moorlach, Nguyen and the perpetrators of these crimes. The fact is, these sub-par nursing homes are being aided in their criminal activities by personnel at SSA and in the County government. Then, these criminals are making large donations to the political war chests of these same people that were elected to protect these people. You or I could end up in a nursing home tomorrow. Wouldn’t YOU like to know what ones were sued in federal court for some of the most jaw dropping abuse, molestation and neglect that I have ever read about? The fact is, these patients don’t vote. These “leaders” are milking this cash cow, and lying about it. Then, Spitzer rigs the Worker’s Comp court to avoid having to pay the damages that the harassment causes. Yeah, I do need a nap. I need to be able to sleep at night without worrying that Todd Spitzer is going to send two off duty sheriffs to my house to threaten me if I don’t shut up. I need to support my family, and I cannot, because I cannot get a job, due to the County’s illegal harassment and violation of a court order. I need to get back what I lost because I did my job, not for the big shots, but for the people who paid my salary. It is doubly stressful, every time I log onto this site, when I see Norberto pleading for donations for truth telling, when I don’t see a lot of truth being told. You have no idea how corrupt the nursing home industry is, in this county. Do you think the Public Guardian drama happened in a vacuum? Why is no one talking about Janet Nguyen’s fake donations and money laundering? Where did her mysterious million dollar Cal-Optima slush fund go? You should be mad, too. Whether it is you, or someone you love, there will come a time when you have to choose a nursing home. I am here to tell you that there are a precious few in this county that you would want to be in…precious few. The others are substandard hellholes, that I wouldn’t put a mouse in. But no one is talking about that, despite being given mountains of documents, because they don’t want the big boys mad at them. Sorry, but truth telling requires a mess.

    • Debby Bodkin

      Agree… what other explanation would there be to the fact that factual posts are deleted, especially when the politically connected Orange County leaders, i.e., Rackauckas, Schroeder, Hutchens, BOS, etc., are referenced.

      • Jacki Livingston

        I know VoC’s intentions are noble. But intention does not make change. Change is messy, uncomfortable and deeply divisive. But until someone, ANYONE, is willing to get down and dirty, and take these yahoos on, they won’t effect change.

  • M Mikens

    OCV’s major source of funding paying for Norberto’s 130K salary is the Unions and Democrats in OC, hence why no stories are written about them. He had to do this or look compliant….

    • UnitedWeStand

      If you haven’t noticed, 98% of the politicians in office in Orange county are Republican, so of course most of the news reported is on Republicans. And if Republicans truly wanted the TRUTH reported they would support the Voice of OC also.

      • LFOldTimer

        I wouldn’t fall into the trap of blaming one party or another. That only divides and conquers the electorate while the crooks make out like bandits. The Bell electeds (and appointeds) were mostly Democrats. So what? Republicans and Democrats are 2 sides to the same coin. They work together to control you. The only way we beat them is by uniting together and calling out all dirty politicians, not just the ones who don’t happen to belong to the political party of our choosing. Full disclosure: I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I figured out their game in 2008 and never looked back. Loyalty to any particular political party is a vote for the status quo. Don’t be their fool.

        • UnitedWeStand

          I’m neither a Republican nor Democrat. I’m just stating the facts. See for yourself:
          http://ocpolitical.com/oc-elected-official-database/

          • LFOldTimer

            I realize that most electeds in OC are Republican. I’m just explaining that when we make misbehavior in public office a party issue I don’t think it serves a good purpose. It comes across as “our party against theirs” and that is counterprodutive to reforming the entire broken political system – composed of mostly Republicans and Democrats. Behind the scenes both major parties work closely together to maintain our 2-party system that keeps tight controls over your life. One is no better than the other. It’s a 2-headed snake. The sooner we understand that the better.

          • Jacki Livingston

            I agree.

          • UnitedWeStand

            There may be corruption on both sides of the fence, but each party has different values. Because Orange county currently is made up of Republican politicians, the people with power over the powerless instead of the people with power helping the powerless. Its not a true democracy because it has been all one power in Orange county for as long as I can remember. Over the years I have voted for candidates nationally from both parties, but the difference in each party has become wider and wider and more obvious. You can bet this year I WILL NOT be voting for a Republican president because I have seen how they operate in little ole Orange County.

          • LFOldTimer

            The democrats in power don’t help the powerless. They keep the powerless helpless and dependent on government to maintain their power. There are more democrats in Wall Street’s back pockets than there are republicans. Go look at the TARP vote if you don’t believe me. So you won’t vote for a republican POTUS? How did Obama work out for you? Are you lovin’ that ‘hope and change’? ha.

      • M Mikens
    • Paul Lucas

      Thats total BS.

    • David Zenger

      Did you miss the stories about the Democrats on the Rancho Santiago CC District Board? How about Democrat Pulido? Democrat Brandman? Democrat Broadwater? Et cetera.

      All the electeds at the County level are Republicans (at least registered so); and most of them spend most of their time misbehaving. So it stands to reason that will be a big percentage of VoOC stories.

      • Paul Lucas

        Hear hear.

      • RyanCantor

        Two articles last week on the Sheriff’s union, too.

  • astar2b

    Hmmm… You mean you can’t supervise from your big easy chair? You actually have to visit OC streets?

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    It does not take a Board of Supervisors or a villiage – it takes an astute 7 year old to point out the obvious – inadequate heat and bedding. Really? The homeless have a culture and a system that guides the civic center settlement. Many have set up a shelter system which to many on the outside view as inhospitable but it works for them for their own reasons. So I ask… how would thin bedding, little heat and a security wand be welcoming? It is predicable – the homeless will not leave the civic center and relocate to the bus terminal. Now we will have two inadequate side by side homeless camps. Nice Job BOS.

    • LFOldTimer

      It’s not only the BoS. It’s the moronic County Committee to End Homelessness that’s made up of 6-figure government bureaucrats who are using the cause to pad their own wallets. That’s supposed to be the County’s homeless think tank. Anybody with half a brain would know that buying the CC bus depot to convert into a homeless shelter is about as dumb as buying a plot of land on a beach to grow corn. The 2 are incompatible and the project is a waste of money that could be spent in more effective and efficient ways to help the homeless. And once the current Board is termed out we, the citizens, will elect another band of idiots. Hopefully the Trump effect with filter down to County government. But don’t count on it. Traditionally California has some of the stupidest voters in the Nation. And the County electeds are Evidentiary Exhibit Item #1.

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        Well stated – at least we know which village is missing their idiots………….

      • Paul Lucas

        Trump?

        • LFOldTimer

          Anti-establishment, regardless of which political persuasion. Think real change. Not the kind Obama gave you. Don’t be fooled again.

          • Paul Lucas

            Oh you must be in love with bernie sanders then. he is anti-establishment and cannot be bought by corporations. Welcome to the Bernie Sanders revolution.

          • LFOldTimer

            If my vote was exercised based only on the Wall Street phenomenon Bernie would be my man. However, the decision making process I use to choose a favorite candidate is multi-faceted. And Bernie doesn’t make the grade on other issues that I consider critical to the well-being of the nation. But Bernie is my favorite Democrat by far.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Obama didn’t give us huge change, like he promised, in large part because of the treasonous Congress he was stuck with. He also had to clean up Dubya’s mess. Being fair is important. I don’t think he is the greatest thing since sliced cheese, but I also think that the racists had their day in making it ten times harder than it had to be. But I still believe that Trump would be an unmitigated disaster, and his hoardes of racists, violent, xenophobic, homophobic hate mongering fans would finally have their day in the light, legitimizing their disgusting ideology. Yes, Trump cannot be bought. So what? Who wants to buy what he is selling? He is a carnival sideshow barker, a reality show lowlife. What’s next? Kim Kardashian for Secretary of State? Honey Boo Boo for Supreme Court Justice? People say Trump is a great businessman. No he isn’t! He has gone bankrupt, over and over. He has failed far more than he succeeded, and he uses the strong women behind him, like Ivana and Ivanka, to prop him up. I give him props for what he is, but Presidential? No…nononononononono. Give me Bernie. I honestly believe that it will be Saunders versus Bush/Rubio. The only wildcard, for me, is who Bernie will choose to run with him. I suspect it will be Elizabeth Warren. Hilary would never run as vice. I think her star is falling, again. I respect many things about her, but she carries too much baggage.

      • David Zenger

        “The 2 are incompatible and the project is a waste of money that could be spent in more effective and efficient ways to help the homeless.”

        Effectiveness and efficiency do not enter into the politician’s calculus, alas. We don’t have governors, we have perpetual political office seekers.This whole thing was an ill-considered overreaction to being flayed by Norberto.

  • LFOldTimer

    This is the first time I’ve seen Norberto dress Hutchens down. Better late than never. She was coined our “change agent” when she replaced Corona. Remember? She was supposed to clean the jails up after John Chamberlain. Then we got the nationally reported jailgate informant scandal and now we’ve got the jail escape. More embarrassment for the County of Orange. “Change agent?” My foot. And don’t forget about the civil suit involving Hutchens and her former 5 assistant sheriffs who are claiming wrongful termination. That trial ended in the the third quarter of 2015. Why no ruling yet? Hmmm. Preparations for damage control? That would be a HUGE judgment. 5 OCSD executives back pay and benefits for 7 years, attorney fees, etc….. Nobody’s talking about that. At least not publicly. Would Hutches or her Department pay the judgment? ha. Nope. The innocent taxpayers would get caught holding the empty bag as usual. The Supes use the excuse that Hutchens in an elected official so they show deference. ha. That’s a dodge and a blatant refusal by the supes to carry out their sworn duties. Political expedience always trumps good governance in the OC. The OIR? ha. Don’t make me puke. Stephen Connolly might as well be wearing a green uniform and driving a black and white. He’s been Hutchen’s flunkie for the last 8 years. No wonder she speaks so fondly of him. He’s a $200,000 plus water bucket carrier for OCSD. Look, it’s a big club. Executive club members are protected. We’ve seen this same movie over and over again. Why is everybody acting so stupid? Call it what it is. This is not a government. It’s a cabal. Take off your chains and speak the truth.

    • Paul Lucas

      Don’t forget that Hutchins came from LA County which just after started having their own corruption scandals of the command staff of which was part of. And the Snitch program scandal that she is going through right now actually started in LA county and was brought to OC early on.

  • David Zenger

    “I’m starting to wonder whether any top county government official in
    Orange County will ever be publicly held accountable for anything”

    I gave up wondering a long time ago: when I found out the Dana Point Harbor staff handed out $50,000 checks every month to a “consultant” whether they accomplished anything or not – FOR FIVE YEARS. And nobody cared.