Santana: Calling Out the Obvious

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

County Supervisor Todd Spitzer at a supervisors meeting.

Are the wheels coming off at Todd Spitzer Inc?

When County Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s top legislative staffer – Chris Nguyen – left his office abruptly last month to go work for Auditor Controller Eric Woolery, I heard the County CEO’s office had prepared a contingency plan in case Spitzer’s office went into full meltdown.

They might want to start unrolling the fire hoses.

Late last week, I heard yet another staffer – Christine Richters – flew the coup.

There have been many abrupt Spitzer staff exits in recent years but with these latest, I’m starting to hear rumblings about potential workplace harassment claims.

Readers also alerted me last week to a new Facebook page, called “Todd Spitzer, Armed & Unhinged” that made its debut – reportedly under protest from Spitzer.

I put in several calls last week to Spitzer press secretary Melanie Eustice and got a rare radio silence. Spitzer Chief of Staff George Cardenas also didn’t return calls.

Richters and Nguyen follow in the steps of another high-profile Spitzer staffer, Carrie O’Malley, who left earlier this year along with former Chief of Staff Martha Ochoa.

Spitzer also has had more staff turnover than any county supervisor in recent memory.

The staff vacuum comes at a tough time for Spitzer and his new, expensive (chief of staff?) political heir and fixer, Irvine Councilman Jeff Lalloway, who has been brought in – under chief of staff-type pay – at an estimated $190,000.

Note that the city of Irvine and the county of Orange are regularly in court over a host of land use issues such as commercial developments and critical public services like the Orange County Fire Authority.

The timing is also particularly bad for the county CEO’s office because the premium level executive fixer who would have likely led the clean up crews for any fifth floor job at the Hall of Administration – longtime insider and county Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny – also has left the building.

Denny found himself a great slot in the management ranks at the city of Dana Point – where he was sent to investigate this summer after a critical audit uncovered problems at the county harbor.

While Denny has attracted negative headlines in the past, Dana Point scored big here.

Denny is smart and effective…a great fix-it artist, a solid technocrat with great political skills and background who pretty much kept the county government functioning under the previous CEO Mike Giancola – a short-time CEO installed under a shaky board majority – and was critical to helping current CEO (and former chief financial officer) Frank Kim shore up operations when he was picked to head the county government last year.

Denny also doesn’t return phone calls.

Housing For Homeless

Orange County’s homeless may have finally gotten they’re own set of political cleaners.

It’s people, like OC homeless czar Susan Price and homeless activists like Larry “Smitty” Smith and Igmar Rodas from the Civic Center Roundtable that are increasingly the faces of change on homelessness.

After waiting so long to deploy a response at the county Civic Center to the homeless explosion, Price became the face of the county response last month – handed a political deadline of setting up a new facility in a month.

She pulled it off.

The opening of the Courtyard Transition Center was smooth and by all accounts a success.

Contracting with Midnight Mission and City Net to open the facility instead of the traditional route - Mercy House - was a really smart move. It not only brings in a new player but seems to have ushered in a smart approach toward security based on trust-building and not shows of strength (ie: wanding).

There are also a host of homeless activists – organized around the Civic Center Roundtable – that were the first to stand up years ago and offer a voice for the civic center community.

They should be key partners alongside a strong county workforce and nonprofit community in creating sensible uses at the center and developing the best program approaches possible.

Price seems smart enough to get that.

People like Smith and Rodas, who wrote a story on the opening of the bus terminal for Voice of OC, are both the kind of people that can help tailor services onsite immediately to help fit current needs and plan for the future.

They know because they have lived it.

They also know the harsh reality that homeless people need one thing above all else.

Homes.

That was the first thing that Price said to me earlier this year when she was hired, during what is probably the shortest and most on-point interview I’ve ever done.

It was also the conclusion from this weekend’s county-sponsored forum on homelessness.

We need to build more affordable housing and especially focus on special housing tracts connected to key health and human services for vulnerable people.

Yet that is where every public policymaker and elected official across Orange County continues to fail miserably.

County officials this weekend had no answer and it’s an election year.

If we allow that silence to continue, then we all deserve the mean streets our children will surely inherit.