The County of Orange's lawyer is calling on the California Attorney General to investigate potential illegal deals that could give private control of the $100 million-plus Orange County Fairgrounds property in Costa Mesa to well-connected political insiders.
In an Oct. 30, 2009, letter to Gary Schons--the state AG's top-ranking official in Southern California--County Counsel Nicholas S. Chrisos writes, "it appears" that the public board of the state-owned fairgrounds began violating open meeting and conflict-of-interest laws in July by secretly forming a private foundation to bid on the property, secretly naming themselves to the foundation's private board and hiring--without a bid process--former State Senator Dick Ackerman's law firm as the private entity's consultant.
The fair board was so concerned about secrecy it asked Ackerman's Nossaman, Guthner, Knox and Eliot to create the foundation in July--"eight days before the [law firm's] consulting contract was approved" in public, according to Chrisos.
A July 29 fair board agenda cryptically informed residents that item number 7 concerned the "Governor's Initiative to Sell Orange County Fair & Event Center." There was no mention of creating a foundation or spending money to hire related consultants. The fair board routinely blocks open public inspection of its requests for bids by oddly requiring citizens to obtain a password for online access. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to sell valuable public properties in an alleged effort to reduce the state's multi-billion dollar deficit.
Chrisos provided Schons with other concerns, including that the fair board members "would have a direct personal interest" in the new private foundation's "financial interests;" and that public funds were illegally used to hire the two law firms for the private foundation. It's the governor who appoints individuals to state fair boards. In OC, at least, the composition is usually a who's who of political operatives, consultants or campaign contributors.
Robin Wachner, spokesperson for the fair, declined to answer in-depth questions about the board's creation of a private foundation. Wachner said she would ask either board Chairwoman Kristina Dodge or Vice Chairman Dave Ellis to call me to respond to questions. Neither one has called back. Normally chatty Dick Ackerman is mum, too.
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Officials at Nossaman told me today that they "handed over" the foundation's articles of incorporations responsibilities to Jones Day lawyer John R. Beeson. Beeson could not be reached for an interview this afternoon. Jones Day represented sheriff-turned-convicted-felon Mike Carona on federal corruption charges earlier this year.
A fascinating side note that gives a glimpse into the incestuous inner workings of OC politics: Linda Ackerman, Dick's wife, is running to replace disgraced state Assemblyman Mike Duvall, a longtime Ackerman pal. The special election is Tuesday. As vice chairman of a state committee overseeing utility companies, Duvall had openly bragged about his juicy sexual affair with a head lobbyist for utility giant Sempra. When KCBS/KCAL reported last month on another alleged past sexual relationship between Duvall and Linda Ackerman's fundraiser, an outraged Dick Ackerman got Jones Day's Thomas Malcolm to threaten a series of news outlets (including this publication) with hostile legal action.
Will the Malcolm/Ackerman duo team up against the media again on the secretive fair privatization issue?
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly