Editorial: The watchdog vs. the guardian
…Because of the scathing tone of the reports…, we expected the investigation to be filled with allegations of abuse. Instead, the reports focus on detailed complaints about the agency's management structure. In the one case where the grand jury accuses the office of mismanaging a person's $7,100 estate, the jury got the basic facts wrong. The public administrator didn't handle the case at issue….
[The argument from "fishiness"?]
We're not usually given to accepting the "political vendetta" argument, but we do find some things fishy about the double-barreled reports, which complain about excessive management growth, pension spiking and excessively large caseloads by conservators responsible for handling the assets of the clients. For starters, we can't figure out why the grand jury took the unusual step of releasing a second report before the legal deadline had expired for Mr. Williams to respond to the first one. The rationale, according to the grand jury foreman, was that the office continued to engage in the same practices it had criticized: "They basically went on to do the same thing in spite of our report," grand jury foreman James Perez told the Register.
But how could anything have changed even before the [two month] deadline had expired to even respond to the allegations? The second report, which supposedly contained new information, read to us like a rehashing of the first report. Our guess is the grand jury received a leaked copy of Mr. Williams' initial rebuttal to the Board of Supervisors, and lashed out again because they didn't like that he disputed each of their recommendations. Some of those recommendations sound reasonable, especially regarding budget growth. But some of the points had such simple explanations that it makes us wonder about the thoroughness of the report.
For instance, the grand jury raises the issue of "questionable pension practices" because Mr. Williams promoted an employee to a top management position within a year of retirement. But as Mr. Williams told us, he didn't know when that person would retire, and it would be discriminatory to not promote someone because of her age. We agree that the county's pension system is ridiculously generous, but we can't see how this amounts to any deliberate form of pension spiking barring some additional evidence.
On a broader point, we agree with Mr. Williams that a closer look at the grand jury system is warranted. He complains that the grand jurors came into his office with subpoena power, an ax to grind and little to no understanding about how the office operates. "These people struggled to understand all the basic stuff.”….
We have appreciated the grand jury's civil oversight function, mainly because of the desperate need for oversight of government agencies. But grand juries can be abused by those with personal and political agendas, and we have seen the O.C. grand jury insert itself into political disputes that seem far afield from its legitimate purview….
Is it really so hard to understand why the GJ issued a second report before Williams responded to the first? According to the Times,
Jurors intended to issue only one report on the agency. But within two weeks of its release in May, they got a "significant" number of calls and letters informing them that not only had management not changed, but that the situation had worsened. (See OC Grand Jury.)
—That is, contrary to the Reg editorial, there were indications that Williams was actively engaging in further practices of the sort they objected to--or, at any rate, he was acting to make matters worse. “Failure to change things” and “open defiance” are two different things, Reggie. Get it right.
Again, a focus of the original Grand Jury report was financial accountability:
This report explains how the agency has failed to keep its promise to the taxpayers of Orange County to cut costs and improve services. The annual base salary of management has increased over 96% since 2005.
Indeed, the OC Reg’s first article about Williams’ GJ woes began with this:
Public Administrator John Williams and then-Treasurer/Tax Collector John Moorlach promised county supervisors in 2005 they could save $300,000 over three years by combining the offices of public administrator and public guardian. ¶ Yet Orange County's grand jury says they didn't even come close. ¶ A scathing county grand jury report … takes aim at Williams for doubling salary costs at the agency and engaging in questionable personnel practices. ¶ "The annual base salary of management has increased over 96 percent since 2005," read the grand jury report. ¶ "They have failed to deliver on their promise to save Orange County taxpayers' money."
The GJ offered specifics:
According to the report, in 2005 there were seven employees who had combined yearly salaries of $529,796. By 2008, the number of employees had risen to 10, a spike of 40 percent. And their wages totaled $1, 042,828 annually.
Somehow, the fiscal center of the GJ’s criticism now seems unimportant to the Reg. Why? Cuz conspiracies are afoot: the jury foreman, Jim Perez, was out to get Williams owing to the latter’s trusteeship at the SOCCCD (?!), and he somehow managed to get all jurors to go along with him.
Williams and the Reg focus on alleged factual errors in the report. But, on Tuesday (see update of Public guardian fires back), we learned that
James Perez, foreman of the grand jury that published the two reports, said … that Williams was allowed to review both reports before they were published and that he did not raise concerns about their accuracy. ¶ "He made no factual corrections," Perez said. "What he said was, the facts are correct, but I dispute your interpretation of the facts." [My emphases.]
Something doesn’t add up here. Having observed Mr. Williams for many years (especially with regard to the board's "persistent and defiant" violations of the Brown Act), I know him to be an inveterate schemer and liar. He's Karl Rove, but without the brain.
I’m betting on Perez, not Williams.
One more thing. If these reports are merely the product of a “vendetta,” then why aren’t Mr. Williams’ supporters defending him? On the contrary, on Monday, Supervisor John Moorlach’s chief of staff was quoted as saying, “We are very troubled….”
It’ll be fun to see where this thing goes next. Stay tuned.
HE'S A SCUMBAG, DON'T YOU KNOW?