Change is apparently in the air for another department at the County of Orange after yet another scathing management report, this time from the grand jury – the only truly independent functioning auditing agency in the county that can’t be shut down because of politics.
In the crosshairs is yet again another former political aide to a county supervisor, dinged for leading – or failing to lead - an agency that can’t seem to meet its marks.
This past week grand jurors put the spotlight on OC Community Resources (OCCR) – arguably the largest county department after the sheriff and district attorney when it comes to serving the public.
They paint an ugly picture and have called on county supervisors for a “change of leadership” at OCCR.
Steve Franks, a former political aide to County Supervisor Jim Silva, was placed in that spot after two terms of politicking from the fifth floor as his chief of staff.
Problems with decentralized management seems to be an issue at many of the agencies under the direction of OCCR and Franks.
OCCR operates county parks, libraries and the county animal shelter in Orange. It’s also the lead on the battle to end homelessness and the quest for affordable housing.
Yet it seems to have issues making progress on just about all of them.
Keep in mind that this is the agency that oversaw $1 million in questionable consulting contracts steered to friends at OC Parks.
Still no action by county supervisors…
That scandal involves potentially dinging another politically connected director – COO Mark Denny, who also was a senior aide to former County Supervisor Bill Campbell and then former parks director.
Franks also was the manager in charge of another supervisors’ chief of staff, Brian Probolsky – who was dinged by HR investigators for not documenting time off when he attended Moulton Niguel Water District board meetings as an elected director.
Probolsky – a former chief of staff to supervisors Pat Bates and Lisa Bartlett threatened HR investigators with political retaliation before being hired for his latest stint as chief of staff for Supervisor Andrew Do.
He got three days off without pay for that stunt (although I hear he is appealing his sanction).
OCCR is also the agency that has been dinged twice by grand jurors this year on managing the animal control shelter facility and failing to lead regionally to replace the 73-year old structure that is falling apart.
In their latest report, grand jurors noted that an “alleged void in leadership has resulted in either the inability of management to define the problems at hand or, if defined, an unwillingness to correct them.”
Faced with absent leadership, grand jurors noted that "it has been alleged by many that the lack in leadership has led to a few mid-management personnel assuming control of the animal shelter daily operations with little or no oversight from upper management.”
Again, there is no action by county supervisors.
In fact, our new CEO just doubled down on the agency.
“It is our belief that the report in its totality does not accurately reflect the current OC Animal Care program or the commitment of all County staff and our volunteers to the humane treatment of animals,” said newly-appointed CEO Frank Kim in a quickly prepared news release last week just after the grand jury report.
So much for a new CEO who would refocus the county on its core functions instead of politicking.
After years of so-called work on a homeless shelter, there’s little progress on that issue.
Supervisors all but gave up on appointing an executive director for their homelessness commission and there’s not much progress on a year-round shelter. Not even a plan. Just every once in a while, a shelter site is designed for another community (now, it’s Anaheim).
Meanwhile, supervisors continue to do nothing in their own backyard as the civic center devolves into something akin to a Brazilian favella for taxpayers and county workers to have to navigate when paying taxes or reporting to work.
And when it comes to affordable housing, the picture is even bleaker.
Nearly a half-dozen employees recently quit after a scathing internal review at the housing agency found little leadership. DA officials nearly took criminal actions after a year investigation. They instead recommended the county review the housing agency, even though the county’s former performance auditor (recently fired) concluded the agency was performing well.
While decentralized management seemed to work well for former President Ronald Reagan, top county officials don’t seem as good as figuring out how to do that.
It’s probably because to have that kind of leadership, you need vision. And visionaries need to be surrounded by folks who pay attention to detail.
Orange County taxpayers have neither a board of supervisors with vision or top officials with attention to detail.
Consider the monument recently authorized by county supervisors to honor the late president at Mile Square Park, where he launched his reelection bid in 1984.
Out of nowhere, Supervisor Andrew Do told his colleagues in May that he had a private donor (whose identity the county is trying to keep secret) that wanted to offer the county a statue of Reagan, along with two other icons, for Mile Square Park.
Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer suggested that supervisors consider what kind of maintenance agreements would come with the statues – given longstanding issues about clean up of veterans plaques at the civic center that are in disrepair – before a donation was finalized.
Yeah, yeah…No problem, Do replied. That kind of agreement will accompany the donation.
Not one supervisor even asked why the donor has to be kept secret.
Do got his photo-op with Reagan at a great event covered by local newspapers (you have to admire the political acumen of someone who can resurrect a dead icon like the former president to create a great campaign photo).
And the maintenance agreement that spells out who is responsible for what on the statue?
That has yet to appear.
However, once I asked about it last week, Spitzer told me he pressed Do for the agreements and those are headed back to the board soon.
Lets hope the maintenance agreements are negotiated intelligently. Yet one wonders how well you can argue about maintaining something once you’ve already accepted it as a donation.
So a monument to the Great Communicator is done in non-transparent manner (I wonder who the mystery donor is and whether they contribute to Do’s campaign) and without paying attention to one of his greatest legacies.
“Trust but verified.”
Failing to have that kind of approach toward county government has cost local taxpayers twice.
Remember what happened in 2006 when supervisors refinanced their 1994 bankruptcy debt (again to get good campaign headlines for fiscal responsibility) and ignored reattaching a legislative authorization that now triggers more than a $73 million budget hole every year until Sacramento decides to reverse course, which is unlikely.
Supervisors will now point to that funding cut as the reason why things like animal shelters are a mess.
But they only have themselves and their political appointees to blame.
Some prominent Orange County individuals are now pushing for a countywide ethics commission ballot initiative as they only kind of approach that can check these local politicians.
Others, like the Orange County Register, want to get rid of the county board of supervisors altogether and form a super city.
Yet I wonder whether what Orange County really needs is a bit of inspiration from our favorite Republican cousins in Texas – where state legislators are part-time.
Ethics ballot pushers should consider adding a part-time supervisor option to their campaign.
The Texans pay legislators one of the lowest salaries in the U.S.
In Orange County, we could largely save the $5 million we have to spend annually on supervisors' staff and offices for their campaign workers.
Having county supervisors meet once a year, where they could adopt a budget and offer a job review to the CEO, CFO and county counsel would trigger much less politicking, much less political jobs for friends and probably yield much more productive county agencies that what we are getting now as taxpayers.