Santana: Will Gov. Brown Go Up on CRONEY?

Is the OC a Croney County?

After watching a year long, bare-knuckled political fistfight in Sacramento over the funky nickname, it now comes down to one man’s call.

Gov. Jerry Brown.

Orange County supervisors started the brawl last year by adopting that very standard for their labor contracts with the Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) ordinance.

Soon after, local labor partnered with State Sen. Tony Mendoza — presenting their own counter-offer for public discourse, the Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act, or CRONEY.

The two sides have been rumbling ever since throughout state legislative committees and the floors of both houses.

The State Senate narrowly approved CRONEY and presented it to Brown at about 10:45 p.m. last Friday.

Orange County supervisors have been freaking out over the legislation from day one, with officials such as State Sen. John Moorlach (the former county supervisor who introduced COIN) and State Senators Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen (two other former county supervisors who supported COIN) taking deep offense at the implication that public contracting in their backyard is corrupt and essentially for sale to the highest campaign bidder.

They have denounced CRONEY as nothing more than political payback for efforts to shed light on labor negotiations, which are indeed difficult to track publicly given the nature of the state’s collective bargaining rules.

Media institutions such as the Los Angeles Times and First Amendment groups like CalAware have both applauded efforts to shine more light on labor talks. The same kinds of groups push for similar transparency when it comes to corporate contracts.

In an email update this week to supporters, Moorlach took direct aim at Brown, characterizing his potential support for CRONEY as evidence of payback and public employee dominance of Sacramento.

“He (Brown) should want more public scrutiny of the negotiation process, as he’s not doing so well in this critical area…The Governor knows that I was critical of his efforts on addressing retiree medical liabilities. I would call it “reform-lite,” as it only makes the pension problem worse (more on this at a later time). All to say, I’m sure that the Governor will sign SB 331 in retribution, which seems to be the theme here. But, the taxpayers will lose, again, thanks to the dominance of the public employee unions.”

OCEA General Manager Jennifer Muir doesn’t agree that payback accurately describes what’s in play here.

“Evenly applied transparency,” is how she publicly describes CRONEY.

If you want to have hyper-public labor talks, you should have hyper-public private contract talks, Muir argues.

Note that CRONEY doesn’t apply if you don’t adopt or if you repeal COIN.

County supervisors had a chance to back up from that confrontation earlier this month after a judge ruled they had improperly adopted their COIN ordinance. Yet despite the public urging of their County Counsel, county supervisors have to this date stood steadfast in their desire to keep the tenets of COIN – public labor negotiating.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson has openly aired concerns that if CRONEY were enacted, it would bring public contracting at the county of Orange to a halt.

“It’s just going to make doing anything difficult,” Nelson said, noting that if that standard is necessary for Orange County, it should be used in other counties.

All this again prompts the key question: Is Orange County markedly different – more infected by Cronyism – than others?

Keep in mind, these are the same county supervisors who when they found themselves short on property tax money because of their 2006 bankruptcy refinancing, scrambled to convince the local auditor controller to give them $73 million in tax dollars set aside for local community colleges. Brown successfully sued supervisors in court to get the tax money back.

Once again, answering whether Orange County is different comes down to one guy.

Brown should call Steve Danley.

He’s the former Director of Human Resources for the County of Orange, who traveled to Sacramento years back when OCEA had another bill – sponsored by Lou Correa – attempting to take hiring away from the county HR department because of instances of politicized hiring.

Back then, Danley – who was one of Nelson’s favorite executives as board chairman – told Sacramento that Orange County was bringing its situation under control.

That same guy just abruptly retired in protest because the situation is not under control.

If all California counties are run like Orange County, then maybe business as usual should indeed grind to a halt.

Again, it comes down to one person.

Consider last week’s Orange County supervisors’ meeting, where David Carr got up to thank supervisors because his firm, ECORP Consulting, had won a contract against a politically-connected vendor for a South County landfill contract.

Yet despite ECORP winning out in the public bidding process, County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett changed all that with one quick motion that reversed the public process and kept the current vendor, and of course was approved unanimously at the dais without any kind of debate.

The winning vendor – LSA & Associates – has earned numerous headlines in Voice of OC and other media since 2010 for it’s storied role in the attempted privatization of the Orange County fairgrounds as the firm that facilitated the hiring of lawyers and lobbyists by questionably amending a fairgrounds parking lot repaving contract on their own.

According to a quick records check, the firm directly gave out $3,700 in campaign contributions to county supervisors since 2010.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas cleared LSA & Associates last year of any criminal wrongdoing in the fairgrounds saga.

Yet under this kind of contracting and hiring environment, people like Steve Danley and David Carr – who don’t play ball and aren’t giving to campaigns — seemingly have no chance.

It’s now up to Gov. Jerry Brown to tell us whether they should.