Is the Orange County Taxpayers Association Ripping off Taxpayers?
Flickr User RBerteig
Last week we brought you the story of Orange County Water District (OCWD) Director Denis Bilodeau, who in addition to billing taxpayers for no-show board and committee meetings, also charged the public $221 for attending a 2012 dinner at the luxurious Island Hotel thrown by the Orange County Taxpayers Association (OCTax).
This got us wondering, just what does a fancy dinner have to do with water management, and why should taxpayers foot the bill for directors to attend?
McCusker, Faubel and Bilodeau. Peas in a PAC.
According to OCWD spokeswoman Eleanor Torres, who declined to say exactly what was discussed at the dinner, the answer is simple.
"[OCTax's] input is invaluable to any OC company or agency building projects that involves or impacts tax dollars," she told the Weekly by email.
Torres added that although OCTax provides feedback on infrastructure projects, it "doesn't endorse political candidates or make political campaign contributions."
Technically Torres is correct. Thanks to a legal sleight-of-hand, OCTax remains once removed from its donations via a fund known as OCTaxPAC, which in turn spends tens of thousands of dollars to elect candidates such as Anaheim's Jordan Brandman and Costa Mesa's Gary Monahan. Put simply, OCTax doesn't endorse candidates, but the bank account it sponsors does--and its political influence is quite apparent. Take the case of former Santa Margarita Water District Director (SMWD) Roger Faubel.
Last spring, Faubel resigned his public post to focus on his lucrative consulting firm. During his time serving the fine citizens of Santa Margarita, records show Faubel also served as general manager of OCTax.
Instead of a asking the public to democratically elect Faubel's replacement, SMWD decided to appoint a new director to fill the vacated seat. It's worth mentioning that three of SMWD's five board members benefited from more than $4,000 spent by OCTaxPAC during 2012 elections.
Twelve people applied for Faubel's old job, including a young OCTax chairman named Justin McCusker (can you guess where this is going?)
The evening before SMWD publicly considered applicants for Faubel's position, an anonymous tipster sent an email to multiple media outlets (including the Weekly) to say that the deliberations were pure theater and that McCusker's appointment was a foregone conclusion.
A week later McCusker was appointed as prophesied.
One of the 12 applicants, Mike Moodian, told the Weekly that during the public hearing, board members seemed to have very few questions for the applicants.
Why spend the time with silly questions? Time is money.
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