Public Display of Affection

Wilsons subtle gesture reveals a lot about Orange County

Photo by Jack GouldViewers of the Oct. 2 county Board of Supervisors meeting are forgiven if they missed the spirited pat on the back 5th District Supe Tom Wilson gave to two of his best campaign contributors. Not only did Wilson manage to congratulate two of his big-development contributors at once, but he also did it while absent from the meeting.

Wilson's district, which contains tens of thousands of acres of open space, is especially important to the developers and construction firms that run Orange County. And Wilson, who has campaigned in recent years on a platform of ensuring "that the 5th District's concerns are heard," has long benefited from their financial support—and has never once voted against granting their permits.

Wilson planted his sloppy wet one on the developers at roughly 10 a.m., but only alert viewers actually following along with a copy of the agenda would have seen it. That's because Wilson tucked his commendation into that morning's Consent Calendar, a long list of small agenda items passed at once without discussion. The board passed the Consent Calendar between chairwoman Cynthia Coad's presentation to local dignitaries, activists proclaiming Hispanic Heritage Month, and 3rd District Supervisor Todd Spitzer's tearful speech honoring local firefighters.

In the words of the choppy agenda jargon, the Wilson resolution congratulated "Richard Hunsaker upon his selection to receive 'Tribute to Excellence' award by Orange County Chapter of the Building Industry Association [BIA] of Southern California."

Hunsaker is boss of Hunsaker & Associates, an Irvine-based planning and engineering consulting firm that has worked on some of the county's most lavish development projects, including Newport Coast, Coto de Caza's South Ranch and golf course, and the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel. Hunsaker's chief lobbyist for the past six years has been ex-county CEO Ernie Schneider, a man intimate with county officials.

Hunsaker has contributed $1,500 to Wilson since late 1997. The BIA, the collective lobbying arm of the county's developers, has given Wilson $2,000 since his 1996 appointment to the board.

Board members who actually voted for the commendation—Coad, Spitzer and 1st District Supervisor Chuck Smith (2nd District Supe Jim Silva was also absent)—undoubtedly agreed the award was excellent, as Hunsaker and the BIA have been generous with contributions to their campaigns as well.

The commendation is worth little to Hunsaker; he'll get a cheap certificate attesting to what he already knows: that the board would never block a bulldozer. But for the rest of us, the moment was powerfully symbolic, like a schematic of the internal workings of an engine. Government, money and ass-kissing: these are the true motive forces at the Hall of Administration.

 
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