Santana: OC Supervisors Continue to Face an Accountability Crisis

Orange County Supervisors appear poised this week to move forward with a radical reshaping of how county government works, considering an ambitious plan to expand the powers and scope of auditors currently reviewing the Sheriff’s Department with the aim of adding the social services and probation departments, as well as the District Attorney and Public Defender, as clients.

Today, Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer and Andrew Do will once again convene a special meeting to offer guidance to their consultant on what to bring to the full board on Tuesday.

Yet there are real questions whether county supervisors have really put in the homework and outreach to pull off such a vast expansion of their powers.

I still question the fundamental premise: Does this board of supervisors have the appetite for the price tag – budgetary and political – that would accompany expanding auditors into so many agencies at once?

I doubt it.

Supervisor Michelle Steel is already expected on Tuesday to demand that Auditor Controller Eric Woolery prepare a cost report for the county ethics commission proposed by her colleagues on the board last month (Steel quietly dissented on the dais, silently working on papers during the entire public debate).

Don’t forget that public auditing is a full contact sport in the OC.

Woolery is the same Auditor Controller currently locked in a heated battle with county officials and Supervisor Shawn Nelson questioning the recent authorization of his large pension payment.

The last performance auditor, Philip Cheng, was let go because he was too soft. Former Audit Director Steve Danley did the most aggressive audits, almost making CEO, but ended up stalling at human resources director before he retired in frustration at the lack of accountability inside the system.

The current crisis with OIR is largely the product of supervisors’ own rush to action back in 2008 after a brutal inmate beating murder that raised questions about our jails.

Supervisors always describe OIR as a civilian review commission, except it’s not. They like to blame current director Stephen Connolly because he’s never helped them publicly sell that misdirection. He also doesn’t have the budget to do much – other than be a target during every budget deliberation.

This year, his future appears to have been horse traded away.

Supervisors are also currently without a performance auditor, given that Peter Hughes has reportedly left his post last week to take a job with Los Angeles County as an auditor.

Hughes, you’ll remember was very publicly given the Performance Auditor job (a political hot potato if there ever was one) after I pointed out the county’s ongoing accountability crisis in August writing about a host of auditors under political pressures.

For all the recent talk of ethics commissions, independent review, performance auditors, internal auditors, there hasn’t been that much focus or attention on auditing from supervisors or anyone else.

The last thing any politician wants is an independent set of eyes on things.

So far, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas – whose evolving jailhouse snitch scandal primarily lit the fuse behind the current effort – seems to have largely blown off the entire process of expanding the Office of Independent Review.

Meanwhile, Public Defender Frank Ospino – an appointed agency head whose defense lawyers uncovered Rackauckas’ worse scandal in office – is intensely opposed.

At a public hearing on the issue last month, Ospino immediately shot to DEFCON 1, publicly raising a host of concerns with Spitzer about potential violations of attorney-client privileges affecting public defender clients.

Affected agency heads, like Mike Ryan with the Social Services Agency and Steve Sentman with the Probation Department, have kept their heads low and quiet during the entire debate so far.

These are the smartest folks in government.

They know it’s all bullshit.

Always watch the real insiders.

They know which way the waves break.

Expansion of OIR is an idea that will fall apart once a price tag appears, not to mention all the different labor negotiations that would be triggered by attempting to change work environments throughout so many agencies.

When the collapse arrives, supervisors will be left with the tough open question of what to do with the Office of Independent Review at the Sheriff’s Department, given that they voted earlier this year to sunset the current director’s contract on Dec. 31.

They haven’t spent a second on that, despite spending tens of thousands on a consultant study for expansion.

We are now past October – where the traditional sluggish holiday pace of public executives sets in – meaning that when Stephen Connolly’s OIR contract expires on New Year’s Eve there are no options on the table for replacing him.

That’s what I warned about back in September, noting that supervisors could well have just spent the money on a social worker for a much-needed homeless check-in center at the civic center.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Mike Ryan keeps his head low because he knows how he got his job. There are at least a dozen women under him who are a dozen times more competent and intelligent. He got the top job by being Michael Riley’s hatchet man. Want to see some Ryan emails of wisdom? The internal ones used to send us all into fits of giggles. The poor guy has to study for weeks, just to take a blood test. He has a solid base of kick a women who prop him up.

  • Paul Lucas

    The BOS simply cannot be trusted to get this thing going. A federal agency should come in and set up shop.

    • Jacki Livingston

      The feds had the chance. They want to see the County implodel ike the city of Bell. Then the Democrats will take over.

      • Paul Lucas

        That’s a pretty dismal outlook. I don’t care who is the ones to take the lead, I’m more interested in someone actually leading.

        • Jacki Livingston

          Never going to happen, not the way it is. I know of a top senior manager at SSA. This woman is bada@@. She is smart, compassionate, savvy and strong, and she should be the director, because she is ten times better than Ryan. But because Ryan did Riley’s dirty work, he because the boss. The OC punishes truth. They punish integrity and they definitely reward crime. Look at Spitzer. I rest my case.

  • LFOldTimer

    Let me tell you how I think this plays out. The BoS will hire more of their friends (with Gennaco’s blessings) from L.A. to oversee OCSD. It will cost the taxpayers a ton of more tax dollars. The OIR has been costing us about $500,000 annually. Connolly makes over $200,000 in salary alone and he’s been totally worthless as a overseer.He’s been holding hands with Hutchens for 7 long years. The so-called ‘new and improved OIR’ will cost us north of $2M easy. This new OIR will probably consist of 3-5 new insiders – all collecting big compensations, plus the scope of the OIR will expand to other agencies, to include the Public Defender’s Office. And since the PDO is the agency is the low manon the totem pole with the least clout and political horsepower – it will become the County’s whipping boy. Be careful if you work there. Nothing will change w/regard to the historical lax and ‘blind eye’ oversight over OCSD. The OIR will become a tool to attack the weak and political enemies. Independence? My foot. Pay close attention.

    • David Zenger

      In other words, the OIR failed so badly in the past, why not expand it? You get the the veneer of looking like you’re providing oversight, when in reality its all a smokescreen.

      This may have actually dawned on them.

      I disagree completely with Norberto that they will choke on the price tag. It’s a pittance to them, and it’s not their money.

      The ironic thing is that if the County had a diligent CEO who actually instituted Enterprise Risk Management (Mauk and Campbell and Nelson torpedoed the idea) nobody would dream of wasting two-cents on a successor to Connolly.

      • LFOldTimer

        Yep. You’re right, David. If they really wanted an extra layer of scrutiny they’d appoint volunteer civilians (small stipends like the Grand Jurors get) to oversee the OIR process to ensure business was being conducted above board and carried out fairly. This is common in other jurisdictions in California and across the nation. But that won’t happen. Because I believe the OIR will be used as a weapon to go after those who don’t toe the line or easy scapegoats (like the PDO). Look, the BoS will appoint the overseers who will work at the pleasure of the BoS. Big compensations are up for grabs here. Do you think the overseers will bite the hands that feed them? Not a chance. And don’t forget – it was Gennaco who recommended that the BoS appoint his buddy and associate, Connolly, as teh OIR Director back in 2007. It’s not hard for anyone who’s been paying attention to connect the dots here. The taxpayers are being set up again.

        • David Zenger

          Isn’t it funny how this whole little drama started out by a move TO GET RID OF THE OIR?

          And here we are six months later and Spitzer is going to propose making the whole mess four times bigger!

          Given that the Public Defender has never frisked and handcuffed an innocent man in a fish taco restaurant I suggest that the new and improved OIR have oversight of Spitzer, too.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    In summary as Norberto so accurately stated: “It’s all bullshit”. And that is just the way the gang of 5 likes it.

  • Paul Lucas

    Its ironic that the OIR is being politicized which is what it is supposed to be vigilant against.