Political Aide’s Multiple Income Streams Shows How it Pays to be Connected

Norberto Santana Jr./Voice of OC

Denis Bilodeau (front) and Paul Walters, political aides to supervisors Shawn Nelson and Lisa Bartlett, respectively during a 2015 Board of Supervisors meeting.

There are five people who serve in the highest echelons of county government, but rarely draw attention: chiefs of staff to the Board of Supervisors.

They all enjoy six-figure salaries and wield considerable power behind the scenes. But where they differ – sometimes wildly – is in how much public money they receive from outside agencies. On this front, standing high above the rest is Denis Bilodeau, chief of staff to Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

In addition to earning $177,000 in salary and benefits last year for his full-time county job, Bilodeau – who depicts himself as a taxpayer watchdog – received another $83,366 in payments and benefits from other public agencies, records show.

bilodeau092712pBilodeau’s haul last year included $45,097 in stipend payments, insurance, and pension benefits for serving on the Orange County Water District board, and $37,868 for being Nelson’s policy aide at the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Altogether, Bilodeau’s total public compensation last year was $260,921, according to a Voice of OC review of records from each agency. His penchant for racking up public pay has led his detractors to refer to him as “Denis Billsomedough.”

The chiefs of staff to supervisors Lisa Bartlett, Todd Spitzer, and Michelle Steel don’t report any work at outside public agencies. Supervisor Andrew Do’s top aide, Brian Probolsky received about $26,000 in pay and benefits last year as a board member at Moulton Niguel Water District – less than a third of what Bilodeau made.

Jon Fleischman, a longtime Republican Party insider who publishes the conservative news website Flash Report, speaks for many of Bilodeau’s critics by questioning how he can fully serve taxpayers as a supervisor’s second-in-command and also do enough outside work to justify compensation that amounts to a second full-time government job.

“I don’t mind if somebody is being paid a wage for a job that is done,” said Fleischman. “But the concern would be: If he’s already being paid full-time to give all of his professional hours to helping Shawn Nelson as a supervisor, then what’s he getting paid by the AQMD to do? And if he’s getting paid by the AQMD to help Shawn Nelson, then why are the taxpayers of the county of Orange” paying to pick up his salary?

Fleischman suggested that Bilodeau “provide some kind of timekeeping” to show how he’s doing the work for each agency that he’s being paid for.

Bilodeau did not return a reporter’s phone call for comment, but did send an email in which he referred to this article as a “smear piece.”

“The AQMD provides each board member with a stipend for a technical assistant to assist them in analyzing proposed regulations and other related technical tasks,” Bilodeau wrote. “Supervisor Nelson has selected me to assist him given my background and experience.”

A Common Practice

Bilodeau is far from the only public official who has come under fire for generating multiple streams of income from public agencies. Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido has long exploited his position to earn nearly six figures annually in addition to his pay for serving on city council.

Westminster is another place where council members are known for “double-dipping” by taking benefits from multiple taxpayer-funded sources.

And Nelson, who did not return a call for comment, has himself been the subject of double-dipping allegations for receiving a $765-per-month car allowance from the county while also driving an AQMD-issued car for free.

Questions about Bilodeau’s outside compensation have dogged him for years. In 2010, Voice of OC revealed that he had billed the water district just over $3,000 for 17 meetings for which official records show him as absent. And he claimed another $382 in stipends for two meetings that never occurred, the records showed.

Bilodeau claimed at the time that the district’s meeting records were inaccurate, and that he instead had arrived late. But he had voted to certify many of these meeting minutes as accurate, and when other board members arrived late, they were marked as such.

In 2013, Bilodeau was found to have again charged the water district $1,230 in meeting fees and mileage for meetings that district records show he didn’t attend.

“Bilodeau also accepted stipends for meetings of dubious public value, most notably a dinner held by the OC Taxpayers Association [political action committee] at the luxurious Island Hotel in Newport Beach,” wrote the OC Weekly, which broke that story.

More recently, Debbie Cook, a former Huntington Beach mayor and environmental advocate who closely monitors the district, has called Bilodeau out for showing up to only part of water district board and committee meetings.

“Clearly he can’t do all the jobs,” Cook said. “Almost every single meeting he comes late and leaves early. He’ll pop into a meeting for 20 minutes – even less – and he’ll still get his stipend. So clearly he’s just coming to get his stipend and just leave.”

The water district’s stipends were $221 per day of service until mid-September, when they were bumped to $250 per day. Board members are capped at 10 paid service days per month.

That means a board member who attends the maximum 10 paid meetings per month would have earned about $27,200 in “stipend” pay last year, in addition to pension and insurance benefits.

In addition to about $23,000 in pension and insurance benefits from the water district, Bilodeau earned just over $22,000 in “stipend” pay, which comes out to an average of about eight meetings per month.

The key question here is whether the public is getting what they’re paying for, said Tracy Westen, a longtime expert on government ethics. “If they’re paying for full-time, they ought to be getting the equivalent of full-time work,” he said.

But when it comes to policy consulting, he said, it’s harder to judge, because what might take one person several hours to do another person can do in an hour.

It’s a question that Bilodeau himself could best answer, Westen said.

Clarification: A previous version of this article did not make it clear that Denis Bilodeau’s $177,000 compensation from the county includes both salary and benefits.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • John Claxton

    Billsomedough reports that he received between $10,000 and $100,000 last year from a business entity at his home called “Infrastructure Group, Inc.,” whose sole client above $10,000 he lists as AQMD”. From his 700 filing. I’m sure it’s just under $100k. Add it to the list.

  • John Claxton

    Bilodeau did not return a reporter’s phone call for comment, but did send an email in which he referred to this article as a “smear piece.”
    Bilodeau did not return a reporter’s phone call for comment, but did send an email in which he referred to this article as a “smear piece.” Denis Billsomedough! Don’t be afraid to quote me next time. I have been calling him that for years. Yes Mr Dough, this is a smear piece, because you are a smear on all the backsides of all us tax payers. You know darn well that you have never worked an 8 hour day in your life! Why should you be getting paid for working a 16 hour day? Like I have said before, when we get a DA in office who actually cares about the tax payers of OC, your children will be reading how you snuck in back doors for meetings just to collect your stipend (or when you didn’t even sneak low enough to show up you still managed to bill the agency for attending) while you are rotting in a jail cell providing cell mates with helpful info on how to turn urine into drinking water.

  • Cartoman

    $177,000 as (obviously part time) chief of staff for a county supervisor! Cut it in half and we will have 100 better qualified candidates apply. Just shows that the Republican Supervisors talk the talk on county pensions and salaries and then look the other way way when it is under their direct control. Shame on Shawn Nelson for enabling Bilodeau’s legal but dishonorable conduct.

    • John Claxton

      “Shame on Shawn Nelson for enabling Bilodeau’s legal but dishonorable conduct.” I say shame on Supervisor Nelson and all of the other Supes for letting this happen. Shame on Nelson for using an agency car and also collecting stipend for car allowance. it’s shameful!

  • Bert Ashland

    Kathleen, you sound like the exact type of individual that Norberto wants reading and commenting on his blog….an unhappy and sour tempered former OCEA member and County employee. Oh, but don’t you collect over $150K per year in retirement benefits…or do you wish for more?

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      You are so funny! Thank you for making me LOL. First: No I am not a former OCEA member. I am a former OCMA member. Second – I actually am very happy and find the humor in most of this nonsense. Third – actually my income exceeds your guess and I don’t desire more – just fine thank you. So, your analysis has fallen short.You don’t have to agree with anything I write, I will say that I watched this in real time and am not speculating. Denis is good at one thing working the system.

    • John Claxton

      And Bert you sound just like a political consultant who reaps big fees from the the likes of Mr Billsomedough.

  • merelyashadow

    This article indicated the equivalent of two full time jobs. To many this is the equivalent of FOUR full time jobs. I’m sorry, but what can this guy do that warrants that type of salary?

  • LFOldTimer

    It’s easy to find examples of this behavior on the public payroll. No one should be surprised. Anyone who has worked in government knows how easy it is to scam the system, as long as you keep the right people happy and don’t make waves.

    I’ve said this for years: When those who decide how the public treasure is spent suffer no real consequences for wasted funds or their bad fiscal decisions – scammers thrive.

    Have you ever met a government manager who had funds left in his budget at the end of the fiscal year who did not demand his subordinates to find ways to get rid of it?

    Government 101.

    No wonder the Federal debt is approaching $20T.

  • Ron

    This is old news, but I appreciate the reminder. He’s been doing this for years and will do it for many more. He has a cush job and Nelson enables it. He has no shame and he is totally fine being a leech. And, there are plenty of these folks in government.

  • Bert Ashland

    I don’t have a problem with Denis’ compensation. He does a good job for his boss and for his Water District constituents. I think it is shameful the way VOC tries to impugn the character of well intentioned public servants.

    • Rivett

      Fool or shill, let’s flip a coin.

      • Ron

        Fool and shrill. No one honestly believe Dennis does an honest days work.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    This story has been told over and over with the same result: Nada. So what? Nobody cares. He is doing this out in the open, everyone is aware of this, it is not illegal, it is not against the law, it may well be a total waste of resources, he may well contribute less than zero worth of productive effort/results, He is likely late to most every meeting, he pockets money for little to no effort…..Until and unless there is a structure in place and the will to stop this why bother? It is sanctioned by all in political power – they like it that way and it work well for them. Greedy? Maybe Shameful? Perhaps It’s up to the voters to put an end to this – until then watch Denis laugh all the way to the bank.

  • OCservant_Leader

    The taxpayers want to know why the civic center is a third-world disaster?

    Look at this guy! He is just one example of why they are too busy running their scams to do the public’s work.

    He helped BOS Nelson cook up his pension grab. Job well done.

    And they don’t seem to be too concerned about the voters do they? It’s shameful.

    • John Claxton

      Your lucky to get one good story from local press on this type of corruption. Take Nelson’s pension scam. Since the Auditor-Controller held up the funds, not one follow up piece on whether or not the AC caved and paid into OCERS for Nelson’s retirement. He ran on a platform of pension reform. Once elected, Billsomedough taught his boss how to swindle us tax payers real good.

  • Paul Lucas

    Dennis is far from alone in this practice. Its SOP in so many offices and so many double dippers.