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My First Month as County Supervisor

The other night a close friend and neighbor asked if anything had surprised me in my first few days in my new office.

Let me share with you one, which deals with union negotiations that I jumped into.

The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing the sheriff's department and a handful of other public safety officers in the district attorney's office, had prolonged its contract negotiations long past their October deadline.

Accordingly, it spilled over into my term of office. I didn't ask for anything new that had not already been placed on the bargaining table.

The first request was better disclosure from their medical insurance trust. The second concerned the sheriffs association's reluctance to participate in the retiree medical plan changes. I felt the association had to step up to the plate and accept both of these simple conditions.

Immediately the union reacted with vitriol.

"He was on the board four hours before he took a shot at us," association General Manager Bob Macleod said in an Orange County Register article.

Let's put this into context.

As your county treasurer-tax collector, I underwent numerous audits of my department. My quarterly statement of assets was closely scrutinized by the county's internal audit department. We have our annual countywide audit, performed by an independent certified public accounting firm. We have quarterly audits by another independent CPA firm to verify that our investments are in compliance with our investment policy statement. And we have every investment trade monitored by two rating agencies, Moody's and Fitch.

Never once did I ever suggest that any of these auditors should get out of my building, that the county and its citizens should just trust me, or that I was insulted by someone even requesting that my books should be audited. Just the opposite, I welcomed any and all who wanted to review my investment activities. In fact, every trade is posted on the treasurer's Web site and available for full scrutiny by anyone who wishes to take the time to do so.

The sheriffs association is unwilling to provide back financial statements. I would presume that since the inception of the trust some 18 years ago these reports never were prepared, even though their bargaining unit agreement with the county specifically requires that they be prepared and provided. The reports I have seen include the June 30, 2004, review report, which is not an audited financial statement. We have received an audited financial statement for June 30, 2005. But the June 30, 2006, audited report restates it because significant information had not been properly reflected or stated in the June 30, 2005, audited statement. And, if the restated audit is correct, then the 2004 and 2005 financials are not useful.

The association is the only bargaining unit that has its own trust. And it charges expenses to the trust to cover overhead (which surely must involve far more than administration of the trust) to the tune of $25,000 per month in the last financial report. But there is no disclosure as to how this cost was determined. Is it rent? Utilities? What? We have merely asked the union, "Help us out here."

Macleod's response? "We will either succumb to the county's unprofessional, unethical bullying, or we will do whatever is necessary to overcome it."

Say what? Whose money is it, anyway?

Look, if you can't tell your parents what you're doing with their car, then maybe it's time to take the keys away.

The association is the only bargaining unit that has not agreed to the recent modifications to the county's retiree medical plan, one of the most progressive in the nation to deal with the ever increasing burden of unfunded liabilities in this area. Everyone has to adjust their expectations: the county, which is contributing more toward the balance due; the employees, who have new thresholds to deal with depending on what age they retire at; and the retirees, whose benefits are cut in half once they are eligible for Medicare at age 65.

The cooperation from the other unions has cut our unfunded liability on retiree medical benefits from $1.4 billion down to some $600 million. That's an incredible effort to deal with this dilemma.

Macleod's response? "Your security, and that of your family is being attacked."

Really? How about the families of the automakers, airlines and steel factories? Most of us are having to adjust to new fiscal realities, or we will face serious financial repercussions. One bargaining unit should not be treated better or worse.

Moreover, the rhetoric of the past does not match the reality of the present. This is not an argument over how county employees are being treated, but whether all county employees should be treated the same, or whether the spokesmen for some county employees - whose duty it is to enforce the law - consider themselves above the law.

The surprise is that the association thinks that I'm the power person orchestrating all of these, in their eyes, difficult requests.

Macleod's perspective? "He's using the power of his elective office to retaliate against individuals that did not support him."

What? I never asked Macleod for his support in my efforts to run for supervisor. I came to fix the fiscal problems he created, and I've taken a severe pay cut and left a position that was not subject to term limits.

The county's bankruptcy occurred during the last month of then Board of Supervisors chairman Tom Riley's term of office. At his last board meeting he quoted the governor who appointed him to the position, President Ronald Reagan, who said, "trust, but verify."

A lot of us have not forgotten that sage advice. Full disclosure should be the norm for every taxpayer dollar and team play is necessary for the overall county family's health. I look forward to concluding our negotiations in a collaborative manner. It is critical county taxpayers are treated properly and that our deputy sheriffs are paid fairly: no better, no worse.

Moorlach is county supervisor representing West County.