Santana: OC Government Goes Corporate

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Welcome to Orange County, the brand.

Brought to you by the fundraising juggernaut that is the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

It wasn’t enough to appoint a six-figure executive position last June – one I dubbed the “Party Planner in Chief” – that enabled these so-called conservative leaders to legally use your tax dollars to help build their political name ID through a regular schedule of public events.

Then, county supervisors figured out how to paper your home mailboxes with government-funded mailers, again to help lift their name ID.

This Tuesday, county supervisors will debate whether to also implement marketing plans for county departments, with OC Public Works and OC Social Services first in line for the corporate sponsorship experiment.

Marketing plans for government departments?

Get ready county vendors.

Now, you not only get the opportunity to get hit up for campaign contributions from supervisors, now you also get the exciting opportunity to also sponsor things like road openings.

My favorite line from the county staff report outlining this proposal was this one: “There will be no limitations on the number of corporations or businesses to participate as sponsors unless the Board of Supervisors authorizes an exclusive agreement or partnership.”

Wow.

Now I better understand the overboard production that was the La Pata road opening ceremony earlier this month in South County.

La Pata Road crowd shot

I wonder how much all that cost?

Makes you wonder why in the world would you need to spend tax dollars on elaborate ceremonies for road openings?

The answer is you don’t.

That’s why you need corporate sponsors to continue these dog and pony shows to trot out county supervisors and help their campaigns.

La Pata Politicians

It’s quite brilliant, in terms of the politics – which is what this bunch seems really good at.

I just wish our board of supervisors spent more time governing than campaigning.

I hear that most of them rarely show up at the county administration building.

We could check their calendars to see.

But county supervisors prefer to keep their schedules secret, seemingly afraid of what the public might think of their work hours.

If I have learned anything watching this board of supervisors devolve over the past decade, it’s that they should be severely restricted from soliciting any kind of contribution from anyone doing business with the county.

You don’t have to look any further than the county’s dysfunctional IT systems to see how badly that plays out.

For an even better example, just watch OC Public Works Director Shane Silsby’s face contort earlier this month on the public dais when Supervisor Todd Spitzer demanded that the county contract procurement system be altered to ensure virtually every contract out there requires county supervisors’ review.

Silsby, a professional and by all accounts an accomplished department head, tried to have a serious discussion with Spitzer in public about procurement – like the straight man in a comedy – without seemingly realizing that this has nothing to do with policy and probably everything to do with fundraising.

Listening to Spitzer talk about wanting to get deeply involved in county departmental procurement decisions reminded me how the OC Parks director once had to complain to then-Chairman Shawn Nelson that Spitzer had kidnapped her department for his victims memorial project that was billed as no-cost to the taxpayer when he first announced it.

Spitzer Attacks on Press Freedom

As an update on the ridiculous Spitzer-led county request to depose me in a simple public records lawsuit, our lawyers submitted a motion last week to fight that request under California’s Shield Law, which protects reporters from being deposed about unpublished information.

A hearing on that is scheduled for November.

The Orange County Register’s editorial page also wrote in favor of our position on the lawsuit last week, standing up against Spitzer’s bullying tactics.

“Rather than squabble with a news outlet over such a simple matter, with all the costs associated with a legal battle, the county should stop wasting resources and comply with the request,” wrote the Register’s editorial board.

In the meantime, Spitzer commented on my last column about his bizarre need to depose me because we published a story he didn’t like and sought a judge’s opinion on the county’s questionable denial of a Voice of OC reporter’s request for public emails sent between him and the county public information officer about an incident where he handcuffed an evangelist at a Wahoos restaurant while armed last year, after walking the stations of the cross on Good Friday.

Ironically, Spitzer himself describes our lawsuit as straightforward saying, “we are litigating one principle.”

Spitzer wants the government he administers to run in secret.

We disagree and believe we should ask a judge about that before we just walk away from a legitimate public records inquiry by a reporter.

So because we questioned Spitzer, we are now subject to harassment.

Again, a fascinating window into the ethics, or lack thereof, of Orange County’s next district attorney.

Pace for Filling County Audit/Ethics Jobs Slow

Speaking of ethics, county supervisors will be meeting in closed session Tuesday to discuss who gets the great job of running the newly-minted county ethics commission, charged with keeping an eye on supervisors’ fundraising.

Voters overwhelmingly approved an ethics commission to keep watch over county supervisors earlier this summer during the June primary election.

Supervisors have yet to fill the job of the executive director that would run the commission.

They don’t seem in a hurry.

Consider they have yet to fill the position of performance auditor, created years back amidst much publicity for supervisors’ given they had appointed an independent auditor that could look at the management of departments and suggest changes.

Except, once the performance auditor started looking at how supervisors influenced hirings into the bureaucracy, the entire office seemed to go on life-support. Its director was made HR director, then retired in protest.

The next performance auditor was fired in April 2015 after a series of audits so tame that even supervisors started asking questions.

More than a year and a half later, the job has yet to be filled.

How long do you think it will take supervisors to find an ethical person to oversee their own campaign fundraising?

  • Hanrod1@aol.com

    Hey, Norberto, they are only doing what every large organization now does, public or private, in medicine, law, education or other “business” ; i.e. maximizing their own organizational self interests, and those of their top decision makers. Just what you corporate-apologetic, “conservative” pundits like, eh? So, now “eat it”!

  • LFOldTimer

    For those who haven’t figured it out yet…..
    Here’s a simple definition of Fascism:
    The merger of state and corporate powers.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Photo-Op? To do the job your paid to do?

    Private sponsorship of government is a scam these greedy politicians are trying to sell you!

    History has proven private industry motivated by profit will always take the funds and refuse the service. Always.

    Just look at our private for-profit health insurance industry – they Profit by the scam of Taking your money and restricting care. This model is great for the Elites but really bad for the rest of us.

  • Fred Jackson

    So in other words, Norberto is all for the spotlight of transparency… just so long as that spotlight isn’t shining on him or the way he makes the sausage on this blog.

    • David Zenger

      Mr. Jackson, I’m not following your reasoning here. Norberto Santana’s phone conversations with Spitzer about his Good Friday cuffing of Bible Boy don’t have anything to do with Voice of OC asking the County to provide public records.

      I’m actually not even surprised that Spitzer would try to blame anybody else for any part of this self-concocted embarrassment. Like all ego-maniacal obsessives, he just keeps digging his hole deeper and deeper.

  • Paul Lucas

    We dont know yet if Todd will run un-opposed for DA.

  • David Zenger

    There’s nothing here an “Ethics Commission” is gonna make right.