Questions Surround Mailers Sent by County Supervisors

Supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett, the two members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors who serve on the CalOptima board.

Supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett, the two members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors who serve on the CalOptima board.

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Two recent event mailers funded by the offices of county supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett are raising questions about how elected officials can use their names on publicly funded promotional materials sent to constituents.

State law restricts how elected officials can display their name and likeness on  mailers, with the intent of keeping incumbents and other candidates on a level playing field.

Earlier this month, the First District spent $18,374.08 on 57,419 mailers to advertise a job fair, which was held Wednesday, to constituents under the age of 55. It displayed Do’s name in bold letters on one side, and his name and district office next to a county logo on the other.

do_consolidated

Click to view a full-size version of the front and the back of the mailer. 

The Fifth District also distributed a mailer to residents advertising the South County Pet Expo, an animal adoption event held last Saturday, with Bartlett’s name included in the return address on one side, and her name twice on the other. County officials didn’t make the total number and cost of those mailers immediately available.
bartlett_consolidated

Click to view a full-size version of the front and back of the mailer.

State regulations prohibit public agencies from sending mass mailers featuring the name, signature, office, likeness or photos of elected officials affiliated with the agency,

There are a few exceptions. An elected official’s name can be included once in a mailing if it is part of the stationary, letterhead, logo or on the envelope. An official can also publish their name on a mailing if they plan to attend a public meeting, or to announce a event hosted by the agency, although the mailing can only contain one reference to the public official.

Both the First and Fifth District mailers mention Do and Bartlett, respectively, at least three times.

“Generally speaking, there are restrictions [on mailers] because it gives the incumbent an advantage at taxpayer’s expense,” said Jay Wierenga, spokesman for the FPPC.

Mailers funded by public dollars “have to be used for a wider, general public benefit of information when it comes to communications from elected or appointed officials,” Wierenga said.

Do, who is currently running for reelection this November, faces at least four challengers, including Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez and Garden Grove Councilman Phat Bui. Bartlett is not up for reelection until 2018.

Neither Do nor Bartlett returned requests for comment.

However, their staffs said the mailers were thoroughly vetted by County laywers for compliance with the county’s branding policy and the state’s mass mailing policy before they were distributed.

First District Chief of Staff Brian Probolsky also defended the use of mass mailers in general as a way to reach out to different constituencies.

“It’s ironic that a reporter, who last week criticized Garden Grove for its outreach failures, is attacking outreach for an event to help people find jobs,” Probolsky said. “Government agencies can’t rely on social media and newspapers alone to communicate with the public.”

The issue, however, isn’t the outreach itself, but how supervisors’ choose to brand and promote events held by their offices. And, in the past, their colleagues on the dais have leveled that criticism.

Last March, a request by Bartlett to organize annual senior fairs in her South County district sparked a heated over the fine line between public outreach and political self-promotion.

At that meeting, Fourth District Supervisor Shawn Nelson took a thinly veiled shot at former Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who is now a state senator, accusing her of improperly promoting herself through county-funded events.

While a supervisor, county-organized health fairs were known to feature prominent references to her, including event signs with Nguyen’s name written in large block letters.

Do, who worked as Nguyen’s chief of staff at the time, disputed Nelson’s accusation, saying that county events by their very nature aren’t political.

Although the state has strict rules on how elected officials can display their names on mass mailers, the county’s branding policy allows officials to place their name and office on promotional materials and on banners, table skirts, and tent canopies at county events.

The FPPC has penalized public agencies in the past for spending taxpayer dollars on mass mailers.

In 2014, the city of Rocklin was fined $2,000 dollars for spending $20,000 on a newsletter that featured a photo and message from its mayor and photos and names of its city council members.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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  • Debby Bodkin

    I always wondered how OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett escaped accountability for the Foothill Eastern Transportation “closing the loophole” fiaso that led to TCA CEO Neil Peterson’s termination, unless of course, the alleged “loophole” was a fine-tuned scheme and for profit for all involved. See http://www.danapointtimes.com/tca-chair-bartlett-stripped-of-contract-approval-authority/ .

    Ms. Bartlett is “Teflon” proof along with other elected government officials in the OC who use the legal “loophole” excuse versus uphold the oath they have taken as elected public officials. IMO, they all know too much and must cover one another for life…. i.e., DA Rackauckas, OC Sheriff Hutchens, Susan Schroeder, Todd Spitzer, Shawn Nelson, etc., and the list continues without public accountability to taxpayers.

    It looks like Orange County, CA finally found an honest public servant in Eric Woolery. If County Counsel does not support Woolery’s efforts, it will be a shocking development! Thank you to Voice of OC…. great job.

  • LFOldTimer

    Hey, did anyone read the update to this story in the Register? Auditor Controller Eric Wollery has stopped payment on any future mailings of these event advertisers because he’s concerned whether they violate the law. ha. Do and Bartlett are fit to be tied. Both say that County Council gave them permission and that Woolery is out of line. Here we go again!!! Be careful, Eric. The gang might pull a Webster Guillory on ya!!!! 🙂

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      I just read the OC Register & honestly I think Mr. Wollery just painted another bullseye on his back. I admire his guts. County counsel has one job for the board-make it happen and it has nothing to do with what is “legal. Knowing how the gang of 5 operates, there is/will be effort to slime Wollery. County Counsel has degraded to a hired arm of the BOS, and their mission is to make sure the dirty work gets done. County Counsel has lost the respect of individuals who actually expect attorneys to abide by and honor the law.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Auditor Controller Eric Wollery is my hero! He gets a standing ovation!

      Taking on the Organized Crime Unit running OC County Government?

      Denying payments to their illegal scheme of using tax dollars for never-ending campaigning? Yes! Finally someone who represents the public!

      Watch your back Eric, and hope your department has its own “generator” to power all your systems in times of BOS’ category 5 – CoS Hurricane coming your way. Wow!!!

      • LFOldTimer

        I’d love for Wollery to run for the BoS and unseat one of those rascals. Take your pick which one. But he can probably cause more insomnia for them in his current position of Auditor Controller. When Wollery was elected I was worried that he’d just be another water boy and rubber stamper for the BoS. My fears are dissipating as I watch the guy in action. Keep up the good work, Eric. You’ll become a folk hero in the OC.

  • LFOldTimer

    Boy, when these VOC reporters get off the elevator on the 5th floor at the Hall of Administration there must be a mad dash for the exit doors and a stampede of beating feet going down the stairwell. No wonder nobody in county government ever returns their calls! ha.

  • Bob and Barb

    What is distressing about Bartlett is that she tries to get good PR at a Pet Expo but is leading the cover-up of the awful things that are happening at the OC Shelter. She knew that they were fudging the data but did nothing to stop it. Now she is pushing for a new shelter w/o doing anything about all the other problems in the management of the shelter.

    • LFOldTimer

      Bartlett talks out of both sides of her mouth and can’t be trusted. She played the animal lover card for saving Karma the Wolfhound while thousands of innocent dogs and cats were slaughtered under her watch at the OCAC animal killing mill in Orange. She’s nothing more than a poser with a fake smile and phony eyes. And you’re right. They’ve known full well for months that the dog license compliance data posted at the OCAC website was as phony as a $3 bill – yet failed to correct it or notify those who visit the site that they are looking at a misrepresentation of the truth that inflates both the compliance numbers and the canvassing performance at OCAC. And that phony data is still on display as I type tonight while cities completely unaware that it’s phony are using it in their decision making process whether to advance millions of dollars to the county for a shelter without a design or without a shovelful of dirt turned over. This is the biggest scam since Elmer Gantry. Disgusting behavior on part of the county by those who are sworn to serve.

  • John Claxton

    “”It’s ironic that a reporter, who last week criticized Garden Grove for its outreach failures, is attacking outreach for an event to help people find jobs,” Probolsky said. “Government agencies can’t rely on social media and newspapers alone to communicate with the public.” No, what’s ironic is after all the shenanigans that Mr. Probolsky has been in that he is still even employed with the county, let alone a chief of staff position. Same thing with Nelson’s chief of staff Dennis Billsomedough. It’s outrageous that the supervisors just keep these public trough feeders employed.

  • How about this as an excuse? English is not their primary language and they did not understand LMAO.
    I only say that as the three members mentioned all appear to be Asian Americans. and I could not resist the levity.

  • Bert Ashland

    If you dig deep enough into the bowels of this story you discover the County’s “Branding” policy approves of these types of mailers:

    “Although the state has strict rules on how elected officials can display their names on mass mailers, the county’s branding policy
    allows officials to place their name and office on promotional
    materials and on banners, table skirts, and tent canopies at county
    events.”

    So, once again Norberto and his staff find themselves tilting at windmills.

    • Cynthia Ward

      The County “branding policy” CANNOT supersede State Political Reform Act law. Plus someone is misreading the County policy. Once one is at the event, an elected official’s name is permitted on materials. But when INVITING the public to the event, (mass mailing at public expense) the name or likeness is only permitted ONCE and only in certain circumstances.

      • LFOldTimer

        Thank you for the clarification. Now let’s see if Bert returns. Hope we don’t lose him. But you’re right. State law always trumps county policy, sort of like paper covers rock.

  • David Zenger

    In the Fall of 2012 Janet Nguyen put the strong arm on the Probation Department and the Sheriff to spend AB 109 funds for her idiotic Vietnamese “lock your car door” campaign that featured her name and office.

    She got a well-know 3rd Floor fixer to cook up a phony sole source justification after the fact for her own campaign printer to make banners and signs.

    Nice, huh?

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Sadly, nobody cares, nobody will do anything about it, no consequences. So, these chronic politicians will continue to break the rules with impunity. It’s all about them and their selfish needs. All BOS members former and current hold themselves above those they “serve”. They are the hammer and the population are human nails. It is really hard to maintain any interest in this nonsense. So, these hack political losers get caught, it gets reported, documented..people are properly aghast and nothing. Over and over again. Nothing happens, it’s tantamount to tacit approval.

    • LFOldTimer

      Everytime I watch the BoS place their hands over their hearts and recite “with liberty and justice for all” at the beginning of their meetings I feel vomit come halfway up my throat.

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        Yes, these “actors” play their assigned roles of flag waving, God fearing, baby kissing political hacks all the while collecting their donations while they line their pockets and issue political favors. They are frauds and in the ultimate ironey – they know they are empty suits….

        • LFOldTimer

          Ya gotta love it when they all ganged up on Judge M. Mark Kelley like a bunch of rabid wolves for his sentencing of the pedophile but said squat about the jail informant mess, the jail escape or the DA Investigator beating the kaypuck out of a defense attorney in the court house hallways. ha. Have you ever heard them criticize Queen Hutchens even once from the dais? ha. But you have to give them credit. They sure play their political cards well.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            They are play acting the OC version of house of cards. Rules are made to be broken and only your enemies shall be punished.

          • LFOldTimer

            This must be especially frustrating and aggravating for some of you folks who post here who got thrown to the wolves by the Powers That Be in county government.

            It’s hard enough to stomach by those who never got chewed up and spit out by the county system.

            I can’t imagine the angst felt by those who got thrown under the bus when they read about all the double standards at play here.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            As you may know, I was one of those people who tried to play by and follow the rules. I reported unethical actions and behavior, and I refused direct orders to blatantly violate law, rules, regulations, procedures. I was not protected by anyone. However, my expectations were low. I was fortunate that I was in the twilight of my career and I could tell them all to take the job and shove it. Sadly, not everyone in such a precarious position is able to look this gang of hypocritical thugs in the eye and walk away. As a human resources manager, I refused to compromise my integrity and I refused to order my direct reports to game the system in unethical ways. I would much rather have my self-respect.

          • LFOldTimer

            Yes, everyone has a built-in survival mechanism that makes it extremely difficult not to ‘go along to get along’ or do things that conflict with our personal values in the workplace. While most humans are weak and sucuumb to peer pressure, the few who choose to swim outside the school become targets and have little support or protection. But they are the bravest ones of all and can always hold their heads high. But it’s one of the most horrifically difficult decisions that any human will have to make in their lifetime.

  • Roger Butow

    “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”- Voltaire

    “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” Ambrose Bierce

  • Dailysportseditor

    Another great piece by Thy Vo and Voice of OC about the daily corrupt activities of our elected public officials. The abuse of tax-payer funds to increase the name recognition of incumbent politicians during an election year, while common, is atrocious. Look at our public library walls and what do you see– the names and faces of County Supervisors, the same ones who fail to insure adequate technology funding for those very same public libraries! The mailers are a phony outreach program covering for a political mass mailing to constituents. Everyone in marketing knows that you don’t use mass mailing or media anymore for cost-effective advertising. Cheaper more effective methods are available to target job seekers and pet owners. Whats more, the vendors at these events can well afford to publicize the event using their own resources instead of tax-payer funds.

  • LFOldTimer

    Hey, why would anybody be surprised that county electeds fail to follow the rules?

    Rules are only made for the common working-class peasants who pay the taxes that fund county government.

    But not for the elite who govern.

    They supercede the rules.

    As usual, nothing will come of this. More noize.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Nelson is right about Janet From Another Planet. She used her position on the MediCal board to do health fairs and publicize herself, in addition to taking bribes and laundering embezzled public and private funds with fake donations to her war chest. Her actions should have landed her and Do in Federal Prison, but the DA and Grand Jury did nothing about it, even when given stacks of evidence.

  • Paul Lucas

    Constituent mailings are an old form of campaigning in the public dime. All elected officials do it.

    • Cynthia Ward

      It’s still against the law. And while the DA will do nothing, any constituent in their Districts can file a complaint with the FPPC and bypass the DA.

    • Bill Myers

      It’s legal (but controversial) for FEDERAL offices but California law specifically outlaws it.