Santana: News Is What They Don’t Want You to Know

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What they don’t want you to know is News.

Everything else is PR.

That’s why today we are filing suit against the County of Orange for the right to see email communications between county Supervisor Todd Spitzer and Jean Pasco, the county’s main public information officer, regarding a controversial incident involving Spitzer performing a citizen’s arrest and handcuffing a man while armed with a concealed handgun at a Wahoo’s Fish Tacos restaurant in Foothill Ranch last year.

Beyond the bizarre nature of what happened that day inside the Wahoo’s, Spitzer’s actions during the incident and in its aftermath are newsworthy because they speak to his temperament, judgement, and overall fitness for public office.

Keep in mind this is a man who wants to be DA.

That is why Spitzer’s email communications with Pasco are important. He had written what has been described as an “Op-Ed” regarding the incident at Wahoo’s that he wanted Pasco to blast out to the news media. But when Pasco read what Spitzer had wrote, she apparently had major issues with it and convinced Spitzer to keep it secret.

What was Pasco afraid of? Did Spitzer in his “Op-Ed” reveal behaviors or thoughts during and after the incident that would make him look even more unstable than what already had been made public? Were there other aspects to the incident and how the Sheriff’s Department handled it that Pasco wanted to keep under wraps?

We believe the public has a right to know the answers to these questions as well as other information that the email chain might bring to light regarding the thoughts and actions of one of the county’s most powerful public servants.

County officials vehemently disagree, arguing such communications should be kept secret because they are exempted from California’s Public Records Act as part of the deliberative process.

Our attorneys – with the respected First Amendment advocacy group, CalAware – point out that deliberative process under state law only applies very narrowly to decisions about pending legislative or executive policies — not on whether or not to send an Op-ed off.

Spitzer challenged me to sue the county telling me if those kinds of private discussions between county staff and politicians aren’t kept secret, government as we know it would “grind to a halt.”

Yet if local government is to operate in secret, maybe it should grind to a halt.

And be reorganized.

It’s fitting that we’re filing our suit during Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Now, we are a small non-profit with a tiny budget, and I understand that committing ourselves to a lawsuit with a $6 billion county government could be a lengthy and costly battle.

Yet if we are indeed to be governed by unaccountable government, we should confront that.

We believe it’s our duty as a newsroom to inform you of these realities.

This is why we hard-wired defending First Amendment rights as part of our mission as a nonprofit investigative news agency focused on local civics.

Our colleagues at the Orange County Register declined to challenge the county’s decision to deny access to Spitzer’s Op-ed and the official discussions that ultimately killed its publication.

It’s probably a fiscally sound decision to let it go.

But allowing these kinds of practices to stand unchallenged is corrosive to our First Amendment rights.

So we’re going to spend the money.

And if you believe in what we are doing, please help by clicking on our donation page and make a contribution. Any amount will be greatly appreciated.

Our hope is that together as a community we can stand up to powerful interests in favor of transparency as opposed to smoke-filled rooms.

The alternative is a news diet choc full of government PR.

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include county spokeswoman Jean Pasco’s first name.

  • Debby Bodkin

    Something tells me that Spitzer was given just enough rope this time around to hang himself, with some help I am sure, from behind the scene enemies that fear him as an adversary in the next OC District Attorney election. At one time, I thought Spitzer would make a good DA….. now, with Rackauckas, Kang Schroeder and Spitzer eyeing the job, law enforcement in the OC seems to be heading to even more corruption. Very tragic. Thanks to the Voice of OC!!!!!!

  • OCservant_Leader

    This is called “responsible journalism” and a breathe of fresh air. This is an exciting new day in the OC!

    I want to see these emails! And I will be donating to the VOC! Keep it up!

  • LFOldTimer

    It’s one scandal after another. John Chamberlain, Carona, George Jaramillio, Don Haidl, Sgt. Loggins, PA/PG John Williams, Bustamonte, Tom Mauk, HCA BOD, Janet Nguyen, animal abuse at OCAC, lapdog OIR, Hutchens sued by 5 former assistant sheriff, illegal jail informants, jail escapes, Spitzer @ Wahoo, County sued by Carbajal, DA investigator assault on defense attorney. Enough is enough. Somebody needs to clean house. This is like a horror picture. OC is becoming the laughing stock of the nation. Where the heck are the Feds?

    • Paul Lucas

      Sung to the tune of REM’s “Its the End of the world”

    • Debby Bodkin

      I wish someone would add up all the County of Orange outside defense attorneys’ fees and costs incurred because of inmate beatings, deaths, snitches, officer involved killings, conflicts of interest, obstructions of justice and the intentional endangerment of children, adults and employees. These defense attorneys, paid by the County of Orange and sanctioned by the OC Board of Supervisors, are laughing all the way to the bank. Great job TRack, Board of Supes and Sheriff Hutchens–you are all a class act (not) and your intentional acts, not lack of training, are what many call the real gold in the OC. You are a disgrace!

      • Jacki Livingston

        I know that my worker’s comp case where I asked for just EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS, four days pay when I was in the hospital, took three years of depositions and legal appearances, to the tune of hundreds of thousands, not to mention finally settling. $800, and it would have been over.

        • Debby Bodkin

          OMG! This is tragic that you were forced to endure the additional stress and delay.

      • OCservant_Leader

        Let us not forget how many lawsuits from employees? After years of torture most I’m sure, settle out of court. It would be an interesting report to compile.

        The County of Orange does not follow ANY labor laws – does not have a Civil Service and has an In Your Face – “what are ya gonna do about it – sue?” attitude towards employees.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Let us not forget the ten million plus that SSA had to pay out on a case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, for misconduct of two caseworkers who kept a woman’s daughters from her for seven years, without any just cause. And, there is my case, where the county profited and allowed substandard nursing homes in OC use the multi million dollar computer billing system put in by the county to multiple bill for patients, including dead patients, and who abused their patients. They were sued, but the GOP bigshot attorney who is a prominent donor to Nguyen and Spitzer got them a sweetheart settlement for next to nothing. But, now, I am getting some justice, because the state is finally taking action on Spitzer’s unethical conduct to rig cases and there will be some big time smackdowns for Toddy and his wittle crew. Big time.

  • Cynthia Ward

    Oh David, there is the gazillion dollar question. Not only is this not “deliberative,” being unrelated to legislative issues, NOTHING about Spitzer’s PERSONAL LUNCHTIME activities appears to have been linked to his official duties at all! Political Reform Act forbids the use of public funds (meaning paid staff time, public computers, email systems etc.) for any purpose other than official duties. The example we are offered in ethics training for public officials is borrowing a pickup truck from the agency where you serve, to help move a couch. You can return it with a full tank of gas when you found it on empty, thus the public is ahead by a tank of gas for something that cost them nothing, and it is STILL against the law! You can reimburse the agency a pro-rated amount for insurance and registration etc. You can be moving the couch for a constituent, or an orphanage, it does not matter, it is still agains the law, that is in nearly every public official ethics course I have ever sat through! I imagine the use of County staff at a six figure salary is at least as bad as borrowing the pick up truck from your water district.

    I wonder what the legal definition is for “political activity?” Does one have to solicit a “vote for me” position to qualify as “political” or is spinning the public image of a candidate for re-election regarding their personal behavior a function of political campaign activity? Anyone out there know?

    • David Zenger

      Spitzer’s MO is to use the County government apparatus to promote himself. Of course they all do it, but he has had to add a few new rings for the circus. Remember the misuse of Parks Department staff for his idiotic “victim’s memorial?”
      Of course the press release would have been nothing but rubbish and would have extolled the heroic actions of Todd, rather than portay the pathetically insecure, yet somehow still monstrously megalomaniacal Spitzer we all know. It would have been amusing to see how ToddCo, Inc might have tried to tie this into his job as Supervisor. And of course it would have produced the opposite effect from damage control. Hopefully, we will get a chance to see it.
      Interesting to see Pasco involved in another stinky cover-up. Just like the purchase of the dereict building at 433 W. Civic Center that she and Daly misled the Board into buying.

      • OCservant_Leader

        Yea -Jean Pasco tried to fill up #16 -433 W. Civic Center with County Mental Health records.

        “Free-of-charge-storage”- she said as she called every agency. But she did find a friend at HCA. Building 10 – sent lots of “friends” there.

        The fact that it was illegal to put medical records in a condemned building didn’t stop the Band of Brothers from trying to “stage” the records to cover up the deal.

        You’re right – the deal stinks.

        BTW – There was another building #16…owned by the very same Public Works managers…

        • Kathleen Tahilramani

          Do tell……………someone……………..

        • David Zenger

          Yep. She and Daly had surreptitious work done on 433 W. Civic Center in 2012 to make it watertight and tried to quietly move in documents to the basement and the part of the first floor that was on a slab on grade. The rest of the building can bear no live loads at all.

          It was all done on the sly, but the Public Works guys let me in to see that more money was being wasted on this tear down. Naturally Pasco had to be there for my tour to put a happy face on the nonsense.

          Hilariously, in 2013 Daly hand-picked successor (Renee Ramirez – the one who kept paying Jordan Brandman) was still defending the fraudulent purchase of this real estate as a good deal.

          BTW, I know all about Building 16 – the monster that was so well-built the County couldn’t afford to demolish it. And those people still want to get rid of it.

          • OCservant_Leader

            Another oops was the “fund” used to buy the money pit was for a specific kind of “record”. But that didn’t stop them from staging ANY kind of record there. That was Pasco’s job.

            And -There was ANOTHER building #16. For 20 plus years – on the corner of Sycamore & Santa Ana Blvd, The Health Care Agency “leased” the trashed building from the same group of Public Work’s Managers. Of course the buildings have been abandoned for what 3-4 years now? Only good for tear down.

            Those Public Works Managers kept a very close watch on their investment too – making dang sure they didn’t have to put any money into it to bring it up to code. The County employees who got stuck working in the toxic fire traps.? oh well. This is business.

            County building #16 must be some kind of inside Band of Brothers joke.

          • David Zenger

            The worst part of County real estate ventures was the ludicrous “rent to own” nonsense called “lease conveyance.” Some premium was being paid for the honor of owning a 50 year old, derelict building after paying rent for 20 or 30 years, but nobody could tell me what it was. Mike harrah could, but he ain’t a-talkin.’

  • David Zenger

    I would like to express dismay at what I consider the actions of an unhinged individual.

    His colleagues will back the stonewall in public, but one of them leaked the Pasco story. This cat’s not going back in the bag any time soon.

    And:

    “County officials vehemently disagree, arguing such communications should be kept secret because they are exempted from California’s Public Records Act as part of the deliberative process..”

    Say, what? What idiot cooked up that bucket of BS?

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      The gang “o” 5 acts so nicey nice in public – but draw the blinds and out come the knives. No loyalty among thieves. I would not be at all surprised if one of the BOS members leaked the story. Thank you VOC for your work on this story. It is my sincere hope that Spitzer is exposed because his actions during this incident were absolutely out of line, dangerous and without justification. A public official who conducts themselves in this manner does not deserve to be in public office.

  • Paul Lucas

    I think the best choice Orange County can make for the next District Attorney is Judge Goethals. Lets recruit him to run for DA.

    • LFOldTimer

      Goethals would be a great choice. I would definitely support him. But don’t rule out Scott Sanders. He has executive experience at the PD which is the flip side of the DA’s office. There’s absolutely no reason why a PD executive couldn’t run the DA’s office and clean it up. Based on all that’s happened I think it would be a refreshing change. As a matter of fact if Goethals was elected he could make Sanders his Chief of Staff. Wouldn’t that be sweet? T-Rack and Hutchens only have themselves to blame for this mess. Next time run a clean ship. We aren’t supposed to be living in Liberia.

    • LFOldTimer

      Goethals would be great. Better yet Goethals as DA and Sanders as his Chief of Staff. If Goethals decides not to run I think Sanders would make a great DA. The PD and the DA are pretty much two sides of the same coin administratively. Sanders has executive experience. He’d clean things up right quick. If the DDA’s don’t want to work for Scott – go someplace else. There are lots of attorneys seeking a government job. Look, T-Rack and Hutchens caused this mess. Don’t point your fingers at the outsiders. Point them at the insiders. Clean up your own nests.

      • Paul Lucas

        Sanders should have been promoted as the PD instead of the guy thats been there for so many years in upper echelon of the office and allowed these horrifying actions by the DA to go unabated for so many years.

      • OCservant_Leader

        Goethals and Sanders are the real public servants!

        Did what was right, and followed the LAW, even though it went against the entrenched power elite.

        We could use them in higher office as well. Where do I sign?