Santana: It’s Time to Talk Change for OC Government

It might actually be their most honest moment ever.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson and state Sen. John Moorlach – two conservatives who often talk about how much they miss the private sector – apparently want to stick around public life a bit longer.

Tuesday they’ll propose that the county supervisors’ term limit be extended by one term, allowing a supervisor to serve three consecutive terms for a total of 12 years in office.

“When term limit policies are brought forward, many times public officials must learn on the job and are forced from office before attaining the knowledge and skill set required before they can make substantive positive changes,” wrote Moorlach late last month in asking supervisors to consider the idea.

Now while some conservatives, like Flash Report Publisher Jon Fleischman, are raging hot over the idea – as term limits have now become a Republican mantra – it is important to listen to what Moorlach and Nelson are really saying.

Most supervisors don’t know what they are doing.

And just about when they figure out the job, it’s time to move on to the next electoral office.

That creates a dangerous trend.

It’s a fact that Orange County residents are now governed by the most politicized board of supervisors in history.

You get crime victims’ monuments at Irvine Regional Park for Supervisor Todd Spitzer (who is vying for DA) and statues to a Vietnamese general, a Mexican hero and Ronald Reagan for County Supervisor Andrew Do (who is up for re-election in November) at Mile Square Park.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Michelle Steel has produced a dog beach area and Supervisors’ Chairman Lisa Bartlett has become an expert at pet events.

Nelson is still working on getting a bike lane loop finished after nearly eight years in office.

All fluff. All the time.

Meanwhile, our supervisors ignore the real problems they were hired to fix, like homelessness, civilian oversight over police, infrastructure spending, social services and health care.

All these agencies run on auto pilot.

That is until it’s time to publicly embarrass a county department head at the weekly supervisors’ meeting, complaining that government doesn’t work.

Now keep in mind that old-time supervisors didn’t have term limits.

They got elected. And then did what they thought was right.

That ended when they bankrupted the county in 1994.

Ever since then, supervisors have been talking about reforming local government here in Orange County.

Term limits is basically the only reform they ever get to.

Debating what else to do has become a bit of a sport with no game day.

Nearly twenty years after the anniversary of the bankruptcy and the reform panel anointed to plot out solutions, the best supervisors can do is to try to figure out how to stick around longer for a job they say they hate.

We need a real discussion about how our local government should be working.

We are, after all, driving around a car – county government – built in 1889.

Ironically, this week, I’ll be joining Rick Rieff, the Orange County Register’s opinion Guru Brian Calle and Common Cause’s Bill Mitchell on Inside OC, broadcast on PBS so Cal, to talk about what kinds of structural changes are really needed in local government.

Here’s a tip.

We need much more complex fixes than term limits.

We need a public that is engaged because while you weren’t watching, your politicians – Republicans and Democrats – gave you a police state out of simple inertia.

Most of your cities are increasingly moving to have their discretionary budgets primarily focused on police and fire services.

That is what offers key political endorsements for politicians so that’s where the discretionary budget focus in local government has increasingly moved in recent decades.

With tight budgets and given what’s happening across our nation on police relations, many politicians at the city level – note Santa Ana and Westminster most recently – have said they will cut every other service rather than police.

At the county level, the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office are already taking up an increasing portion of the discretionary budget.

Which prompts the question, what do we need county supervisors and council members really to do if so much of our discretionary budget spending is public safety and the rest is pass-through mandates from the federal and state government?

At the county do we need all five supervisors and their million dollar staff budget each?

Is there a better way to spend $5 million?

Most entitlements for residential development in county areas are done.

Supervisors now only meet on average, a few times a month.

Should they be part-timers? Do we need a countywide elected CEO?

Most importantly, state policies like ballot initiatives like Prop 47 and legislation like AB 109 have changed how we jail residents – mainly because of the costs of jailing them.

Yet we can’t expect to put police officers in the midst of social upheaval and just ask them to keep things calm by themselves.

Instead of complaining about new approaches like Prop 47 and AB 109, local politicians need to get to work and actually turn on the other levers of government – things like social services, health care, parks, open space and libraries – in order to turn things around in problem neighborhoods, where we are spending so much of our public safety budget.

Getting at root problems actually solves things.

The rest, like talking term limits, is deck chairs.

  • Philmore

    All true, except by the abysmal participation of OCers and Californians in general, (except for ‘doorstep issues’ as in ‘ a flaming bag of (something) suddenly appears on THEIR doorstep, because they pay little attention to the world beyond themselves), they view deck chairs as something to find for a nap, not exert effort to understand, much less re-arrange. “Wha- I pay TAXES for that ! Le Me ‘Lone ! ” Problems are self-inflicted by apathy, and complaining is ACRES easier than leaving the couch. Fools and Grifters’ PARADISE !

    • Jacki Livingston

      Right on target. The truth is, the citizens of this lazy, overindulged county are getting the corrupted, incompetent, sexscandal ridden, embezzling and downright evil government that they richly deserve. I used to work in the LTC section of SSA, and that is where you really get to see the unholy trinity that is county government meeting county citizens. Well to do citizens cram their poor parents into the most horrific, abusive and incompetent nursing homes I have ever seen, and they use the Public Guardian to steal every nickel that their parent has. If they lack real estate, they turn it over to the financial “trust” office of these nursing homes, who file false paperwork and bribe county officials (oh….HAI there, Janet and Toddy!) to ignore the thievery and they double and triple bill the state. Then, these hellholes abuse, starve and kill these unwanted patients, and because of all the stealing and bribes, there is no money left to bury the poor saps. These evil children are in bed with the greedy, unscrupulous public servants (no, I cannot say that with a straight face…who can?) and with the gutter level nursing home providers. It goes on and on, and it happens on the taxpayer’s dime, so I guess they feel entitled to warehouse their elderly in hovels I wouldn’t keep a rat in. The County of Orange is totally accepting of criminal elected officials, because they let the citizens and taxpayers get away with conduct that the Mafia would find reprehensible and vomit inducing. Ugh…

      • Carol

        Amen to that!

  • Jacki Livingston

    I defy either one of those men to list ten things that they did while in office that was beneficial to the whole of the county, not serving their own agendas. Go ahead, I’ll wait…



    Morelach and Nelson ignored reports to them by county employees and outside lawmakers, urging them to examine wrongdoing, and they both failed in their duty to the residents and taxpayers. They are both do-nothing, lying, backstabbing schmucks. We not only don’t need them back, but they should have been criminally charged for their part in scandals buried.

  • David Zenger

    Great editorial.

    I saw first hand the complete lack of governance and a total fixation on non-stop political campaigning. Until these people are really made accountable to the public the whole place will continue to run on auto pilot as the dead hand of inertia pushes along the creaking bureaucracy.

    I watched the way 2.5 term “expert” Bill Campbell ran the Public Works Department like his own little construction company – free work on private property, phony change orders that benefited campaign contributors , gutting the canyon Specific Plans to benfit his developer pals, etc. He propped up Tom Mauk for years and the two did a cute little symbiotic two-step. And the others resented him not for his scams, but because he could get away with it!

    8 years is more than enough time to actually succeed in “supervising” if they quit hiring political cronies, and put real professionals to work.

  • Paul Lucas

    Term limits are what polarized and made petty politics boiling every debate and policy position down to talking points on polar opposite ends.

  • kburgoyne

    I’ve always been split over term limits. Lately I’ve come to the conclusion the reason is because its a bandaid. I understand why people want term limits, but then it’s forcing voters to not be able to vote for the person they want. Isn’t that a bit weird and anti-democratic in itself?

    The “theory” is elected officials only get elected over and over and over again because the voters WANT to elect them over and over and over again.

    So let’s take what we can jokingly call the fictitious example of the ideal supervisor (or pick your elected office) who actually works hard on the things the voters want his/her to work on. A supervisor who actually gets things done. [I’ll wait while everyone stops laughing.] Do we REALLY want term limits to kick such a person out of office?

    So about term limits being a bandaid… It’s a bandaid stuck on top of whatever reason it is voters vote for the same person over and over and over again when they’ll turn around and impose term limits to stop themselves from voting for the same person over and over and over again.

    What is the REAL reason voters vote-in the same person over and over and over again if they don’t think that’s a good idea? Is there a proverbial gun being pointed at the heads of the voters forcing them to vote-in the same person? Perhaps the more honest approach would be to address the proverbial gun rather than cover up the proverbial gun using term limits.

    • UnitedWeStand

      The same people get voted in over and over again, not because they are doing a great job, its because Incumbents have the advantage of name recognition, fundraising, campaign bases, control over the instruments of government, successful campaign experience, a presumption
      of success, and voters’ inertia and risk-aversion. Term limits serve as the best buffer to keep those career minded – if mediocre – political types, from staying in the system. Which is why
      term limits are so very important. A politician working without term
      limits, is a politician working purely on reelection and amassing power.

      • kburgoyne

        So basically you’re saying term limits are needed because democracy does not work.

    • David Zenger

      The fact that you can joke about it shows that term limits are needed to weed out the dead heads at the expense of that (most likely mythical) “ideal” supervisor. Unfortunately that person will be replaced by another just like himself.

      True that absent a strong campaign against them, a candidate will get elected over and over again, mostly by the same people who vote overwhelmingly for term limits. Very paradoxical.