Santana: Failing to Show Up for Work

Orange County Supervisors (Andrew Do, Shawn Nelson, Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, Vice Chair Michelle Steel, Todd Spitzer, lft to right) break ground on a modern county animal shelter.

An angry Orange County Supervisors’ Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett called me last week upon reading my new column in the Orange County Register’s editorial pages, where I raised the prospects of whether county supervisors should be made part-timers with a one, six-year term in office.

Nearly every person I talk to say seems to think it would attract much better qualified and less political candidates, seasoned residents willing to cast tough votes and think long term.

Bartlett said she took personal offense at me suggesting she doesn’t’ show up for work, noting that she regularly attends a steady stream of regional meetings on behalf of Orange County taxpayers.

Bartlett insists she works hard.

Yet if that’s true, I challenged her, as I have all of her four colleagues, to show taxpayers their meeting schedule and office calendars – showing where they go and who walks in their front door to meet with them on county business.

As Reagan said over and over again through the 1980s, “trust but verify.”

Bartlett said she considered releasing her calendar but won’t allow it because she fears for the privacy of the people that meet with her.

Apparently, our county supervisors’ offices have become some sort of private confessional for a secret array of special interests.

What could be so secret at the Hall of Administration in downtown Santa Ana that they can’t tell us who walks in the front door to talk business?

The Darkness of POBAR

County supervisors also continue to operate in the dark when it comes to public safety.

This month, in a rushed session just after the Labor Day holiday, county supervisors took a $13 million, three-year pay package handed to them from their professional negotiators and blew it up into a $62 million contract over three years.

All without saying a word.

They will surely get great endorsements from the deputies union.

Yet imagine how the contract cities will react when they see the real price tag.

At the same time that spending soars, accountability over what county supervisors themselves call the number-one priority of local government (public safety) comes up short again and again.

Consider the jails, where nearly a year ago several violent criminals went walking out the front door and were only recaptured thanks to a miracle.

So what happened? Has any senior public sector manager or deputy been held accountable?

Was it staffing levels on the roof of the jail or infrastructure funding challenges as Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has hinted in the past?

Or was it just bad management by then-jails chief Chris Wilson?

Who knows?

According to some, Wilson was recently placed on leave after being taken out of the jails and put in charge of the Coroner’s office.

Yet when I asked whether that’s the case, Hutchens declined to comment through a spokesman and the department cited the Police Officer Bill of Rights (POBAR) as a manner of avoiding any sort of comment on what happened to Wilson and who has been held accountable.

Again, legislation aimed at protecting rank and file officers from political retaliation for doing their job seems to be increasingly gamed by Sheriff Department leaders to avoid comment – even on a basic management shift.

And this is where county supervisors want to send every discretionary dollar?

Sleep Walking Through Homelessness Response

Speaking of sleep-walk spending, this past month we learned that when it comes to homelessness, vendors never change.

After promising a top-down review of homelessness policy last year and hiring a new six-figure executive dubbed the “homelessness czar,” county supervisors this month announced that the contractor selected to run the new Anaheim homeless shelter would be…drumroll please…the same embattled contractor, Mercy House, that has been criticized intensely by so many homelessness activists in past years.

Their own chief, Larry Haynes, even admitted to our own Nick Gerda in a past interview that he had issues and had to work on his relationships in the homeless community.

So what happened?

Did they fix the situation?

You would think that county supervisors would have asked some questions in public before handing over a pivotal contract.

Nope.

Again, it’s all about headlines.

My favorite was the line credited to Supervisor Andrew Do in the county press release earlier this month – once again announcing the hiring of someone else – Mercy House - to do their job.

“Yes to action, no to excuses – that’s our new mantra,” read the quote from Do in the Sept. 13 press release from the county.

Yet if Do - who is up for re-election this November - has been leading the county’s homelessness response for the past few years (as his election mailers indicate), then who’s excuses is he referring to?

His own?