Supervisors Increase Their Influence Over County Contractors

The county supervisors who voted to have contracts return to them more often. From left: Shawn Nelson, Todd Spitzer, and Andrew Do. (Photos by Nick Gerda and Katlin Washburn)

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The Orange County Board of Supervisors will soon have more power and oversight over county contractors, who will get shorter terms for their agreements and must return to supervisors more often for extensions.

The new rules, which supervisors passed this week and take effect in July, cut the time most contracts can run from the current five-year maximum to three years. At that point, contractors will have to return to the supervisors each year for approval of extensions.

The change effectively increases the number of times contractors need supervisors’ approval for five years of county work, from a single approval to three approvals.

The new time limits will affect many of the county’s large contracts, given that the agreements now often run between four and five years, according to county staff. It also could give businesses that want to replace existing contractors more opportunities to bid and seek support from supervisors.

A county committee – comprised of supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Michelle Steel, and county staff – was convened last year to recommend updates to the contracting policies.

Their final recommendation was to extend the current contract time limits, by allowing five years plus an additional one-year extension without supervisors’ approval, if the annual cost doesn’t increase.

But when that proposal came to a vote Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors went in the opposite direction.

During the discussion, Supervisor Andrew Do proposed limiting contracts to a maximum of three years, plus two one-year extensions at supervisors’ discretion.

It passed on a 3-2 vote, with Bartlett and Steel in opposition.

The changes affect county contracts for services, commodities, and equipment, which are covered by the County Procurement Manual.

Public works contracts for architects, engineering, and construction are governed by a different set of policies, known as the Design and Construction Policy Manual. Supervisors said they planned to also shorten the maximum contract time limits for those contracts at a future meeting.

Do said the changes approved Tuesday would help boost the board’s “supervision and oversight” over contracts.

As an example, he pointed to a Sheriff’s Department contract from earlier in the meeting, in which the department apparently ignored a board directive from two years earlier to look into lowering the high fees that families must pay to send money for jail inmates to buy items from the jail’s commissary. The supervisors voted Tuesday to let that contract expire this weekend without a replacement.

And for months, Supervisor Todd Spitzer has advocated having contracts return more often to the board, saying Tuesday that supervisors “have a responsibility to know what’s happening, and to oversee it.”

But Bartlett said the change would cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The county gets a “quantity discount” by having five-year contracts, which adds up to millions of dollars in savings across all of the county’s contracts, Bartlett said.

And every time a contract has to be brought back to the board it costs “tens of thousands of dollars” in staff time, she said.

County government contracting is a huge business, with more than $3 billion spent each year by Orange County on over 3,000 separate contracts.

Supervisors get to make the final decision on who gets large contracts, which also provides a lucrative opportunity to fundraise for their re-elections and campaigns for higher office.

A significant portion of the supervisors’ campaign contributions come from county contractors, much of it given in close proximity to when supervisors are deciding whether to approve their contracts.

In one example, Spitzer and Supervisor Shawn Nelson harshly criticized the company that provides phone service for inmates, saying it was overcharging local families who wanted to talk to loved ones in county jails.

But after getting maximum campaign contributions from the vendor, Global Tel-Link Corporation, they both quietly voted to renew the contract with the same company at the same prices. Spitzer, who got the contribution just days after raising his concerns, later denied that his vote had anything to do with it.

Global Tel-Link also owns the jail commissary vendor Do cited Tuesday in arguing why contracts should come more often before the board.

During the discussion, Bartlett rebutted Do and Spitzer’s arguments that the more frequent approvals would provide better oversight.

She said supervisors will already be getting extra oversight from a new policy in which staff will set “performance metrics” on how contractors are doing and provide those to the board.

Do responded that such metrics sound nice in theory, but that he finds that “there is value” in contracts coming back to supervisors to get examined.

Spitzer also disputed Bartlett’s concern about extra taxpayer costs, saying “we’re gonna get the competitive prices because people want to do business” with somebody who pays their bills and buys large amounts.

And he disputed Bartlett’s argument about extra costs for staff time, saying “it is a fixed cost” for staff to prepare contract documents.

Bartlett argued back, saying if Public Works has a bunch of contracts now changing from five to three years, staff may be getting the same salary, but will have to push off other tasks that they wouldn’t be able to get to.

“There’s only so much time” in the day, Bartlett said.

And she reiterated that five-year contracts will provide more competitive pricing.

On Tuesday, supervisors also unanimously voted to direct staff to send them a list of contracts that are about to expire or are up for amendments several months ahead of time.

Do proposed the change, saying it would allow board members or the CEO’s office to bring a contract up for discussion at a board meeting if they have any questions.

The new three-year limits are slated to start July 15, when the new manual takes effect, and apply to new contracts from that point forward.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bartlett was the only supervisor to oppose shortening the contract periods. She was joined by Steel in voting against the proposal.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Jacki Livingston

    The county BoS is engaged in hiring people who are connected to sleazy contractors connected to dear Schlomo, the most corrupt nursing home operator in California, who was written about in the SacBee because of his connection to organized crime and his abysmal record of deaths and abuses in his hellhole facilities. I wouldn’t put my pet rat in a nursing home in Orange County, thanks to how corrupt and dangerous they have become. When even the county’s own lawyers in my case admitted to me that the situation is vomit inducing, you know it is out of hand. Now that the county has forced out every ethical worker who oversaw this nightmare, you can bet your loved ones are facing some of the most horrific conditions in the nation.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This is much ado about nothing. The contract mismanagement continues. Performance metrics? Donors don’t have to do anything but cash checks.

  • Jacki Livingston

    The county sups are a bunch of criminal dirtbags. I remember a few years ago, they put the SSA employees in some really filthy, moldy, nasty and dangerous buildings to work in. We used to come into our offices and find an inch thick of old insulation, dead cockroaches, dead mice bits and mold all over our desks. We had to clean them every day, and wash our hair when we went home. Now, surprise, surprise, a lot of those employees are being diagnosed with cancer, including myself. Lucky for me, I kept all the emails and letters I sent to complain about their incompetence. They have dirty contracts with so many people. Why, I remember the food truck roach coaches they used to contract with at the SSA buildings. People got food poisoning, all kinds of critters in the food…the contractors were relatives of bigwigs. It just goes on and on.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Oh you are so right. The corruption with the County leases is appalling. I worked in ghetto conditions as well for a very long time.

      Everyone was sick. It is a toxic place. Get Out!!!

      • Jacki Livingston

        I now have breast cancer, thanks to these dirtbags. I am not the only one. You would never see His Royal Highness Spitzer working in those conditions. These people are evil to the core.

        • OCservant_Leader

          I am so sorry to hear this. They ARE evil to the core.

          We worked in 3rd world conditions…and the Building owner…a Public Works Manager, would drive his County car over (between 8-5) and spray air freshener & kick the air conditioner. Ha – didn’t work!

          It was a toxic fire trap. Watch out for the no-soap in soap dispensers as well. Soap costs too much. Spreading disease inside and out. Oh god – I’m having flashbacks.

        • LFOldTimer

          There have been tremendous advancements in treatment, Jackie. I know several women who have been in complete remission for years.

          Stay strong and we all wish you well.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Thank you. You and I agree on many things, disagree on a few, but you are a good and gracious person.

  • LFOldTimer

    More Influence = Bigger and More Frequent Donations.

  • David Zenger

    The County has always had a problem with managing vendors in the “out years” when contracts were being rolled over because staff was familiar and comfortable with the vendor. This was particularly true of the IT portfolio that in 2010-2013 wasn’t being effectively managed by anybody.

    Of course the idea that additional approvals means additional lobbying and campaign contributions would be the first thing on the BoS mind. It’s got nothing to do with oversight – unless there has been a 180° change in BoS philosophy – an unlikely occurrence.

  • verifiedsane

    “But after getting maximum campaign contributions from the vendor, Global Tel-Link
    Corporation, they both quietly voted to renew the contract with the
    same company at the same prices. Spitzer, who got the contribution just
    days after raising his concerns, later denied that his vote had
    anything to do with it.”

    Of course this makes perfect sense….shorter contracts means those BoS greedy mitts demanding political *Cough Cough* contributions can stretched out more often…..why wait five years, when you can go to the watering trough every three…