Times are Tight
And here’s what OC’s Board of Supervisors has been doing with its loose change for the past few months
Ever wonder where our precious tax dollars go, especially when government officials insist there is a dire need to raise taxes and fees? Even in Orange County, where the Board of Supervisors is a collection of five self-described “fiscal conservative” Republicans, there are cries of massive budget shortfalls and the need to chop or eliminate vital public services. So what have the supes been spending money on lately? Looking back to August, here’s $13.3 million in spending—some fascinating, some bizarre, some downright ridiculous during a recession:
Teach county employees foreign languages: $128,000
Market exercise and healthy eating to kids: $137,000
Pay annual insurance for sheriff’s department’s Taser guns: $80,000
Remodel Hall of Administration lobby: $455,000
Hire empowerment coach for bad parents: $190,000
Replace maintenance houses at a park: $189,000
Pay a waste-hauling consultant: $868,500
Purchase theater materials for Westminster: $150,000
Hire county-employee-benefits consultant: $165,000
Build a secure basketball court and monkey bars for Santa Ana cops’ athletic league: $33,675
Market anti-smoking ideas in South County: $162,750
Replace five bathroom stalls at Sunset Beach: $838,826
Retroactive pay to county lobbyist: $60,000
Transport corpses to/from morgue: $305,000
Market the value of vegetables to Latino kids: $155,000
Buy playground equipment, lights and signs for a Tustin park: $358,413
Pay for crosswalk guards: $510,000
Add benches and trash cans to Laguna Lake Park: $110,000
Construct a Santa Ana tennis court: $170,000
Market carpooling ideas to county employees: $214,500
Install high-definition screens in 235 deputy cars: $2,212,777
Hire consultant to analyze county bureaucracy: $100,000
Pay Goodwill to package inmate food boxes: $125,000
Buy elementary-school baseball-field backstops: $68,000
Employ polygraphs to insure sex-offender “compliance”: $170,000
Expand Dana Point Harbor bathroom stalls: $350,000
Pay incentive bonuses to groups advocating healthy eating: $687,161
Clean ventilation ducts at county jail: $150,000
Purchase ads in The Daily Journal: $250,000
Pay subsidy to local tourism corporations: $100,000
Market anti-alcohol messages to local college students: $72,500
Construct new office building at a county dump: $3,655,106
Hire a consultant to guard against wasteful spending: $98,115
A month after verdicts in ex-Sheriff Mike Carona’s corruption trial, courthouse players continue to discuss the outcome, mainly asking: How could the jurors not believe Carona’s incriminating statements on a series of secretly recorded FBI tapes?
As I’ve stated many times, Orange County jurors historically have been unwilling to hold law-enforcement officers responsible for criminal conduct. During deliberations in this case, there were jurors who treated Carona like a heroic action figure despite ample, unrefuted evidence of his slimy character.
But another potential factor has received little attention. Before the trial, federal Judge Andrew Guilford handed Carona a gift few criminal defendants ever get: the ability to provide jurors numerous self-serving statements without facing cross-examination by federal prosecutors.
A man of unquestionable ethics, Guilford made the move not because of any favoritism, but rather in response to demands from Carona’s legal defense team that the government be punished for improperly recording our dirty ex-top cop after he’d hired a lawyer. In the view of prosecutors, Guilford’s ruling may not have been supported by a Ninth Circuit decision that precluded another defendant’s efforts to introduce inadmissible hearsay in a similar circumstance.
The impact of Guilford’s decision, however, is now undeniable. Some jurors reasoned to reporters that Carona couldn’t be guilty of taking bribes because on the tapes, he’d told Don Haidl—a co-conspirator and the man who said he supplied the bribes—that “unless there’s a pinhole” camera in the ceiling, he didn’t take monthly envelopes stuffed with $100 bills.
Though Carona’s lawyers are asking Guilford to overturn the jury’s guilty verdict on the charge that the ex-sheriff tried to sabotage a federal grand jury’s bribery investigation, a sentencing hearing remains on schedule for April.
THIS IS NOT THE DARK LORD YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
Have you spotted Michael J. Schroeder—the black-Hummer-driving dark lord of Orange County Republican politics—in public lately? Legal process servers certainly haven’t, and they’re a bit frustrated. They’ve been repeatedly foiled at Schroeder’s Xerox Centre offices in Santa Ana and at the hillside Corona del Mar home he shares with wife Susan Kang Schroeder, public-affairs counsel to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
The servers want to hand Schroeder, a lawyer and close adviser to Carona, a subpoena ordering him to undergo a deposition before ex-Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo’s upcoming civil trial against the county.
In 2004, Carona, then sheriff, fired Jaramillo, his handpicked top aide. Jaramillo claims the firing was illegal and in retaliation for complaining about Carona’s alleged misconduct in office. Carona’s representatives describe the lawsuit as hogwash.
Whom to believe? Both Jaramillo and Carona—for five years the two top cops in Orange County—are now convicted felons.
So back to Schroeder (a.k.a. Vader). After Jaramillo’s departure from Carona’s inner circle, Schroeder became one of the sheriff’s closest advisers. Jaramillo insists that Schroeder took him to a Los Angeles Lakers game (undisputed) and, during the outing, threatened him with retaliation if he exposed Carona (disputed).
Joel W. Baruch, Jaramillo’s Irvine-based attorney, would like to question Schroeder about events. It’s safe to say Baruck thinks Schroeder is dodging him.
Is that true?
“I’m hiding in plain sight in Sacramento,” a laughing Schroeder told me during a phone call late in the afternoon of Feb. 20. “And on Monday, I’ll be hiding in plain sight in New York. These guys [the process servers] just don’t understand how much I travel.”
Jaramillo’s trial is set to begin April 6 in Superior Court Judge Andrew Bank’s courtroom.
Gordon Dillow is the veteran Orange County Register columnist who produces near-homoerotic love letters to folks in uniform. Kill or beat a suspect or an unarmed civilian (especially a minority), and the man in awe of lethal discharges will come to your rescue. Last year, the Reg laid off Dillow. He now writes occasional columns, still lining up squarely behind state force while he pretends to harbor libertarian instincts.
On Feb. 17, Dillow penned another old soldier’s hagiography (he kept the guy’s identity a secret), ending with what appeared to be one of his best gobbledygook moments. Now that W. isn’t occupying the White House and there’s a sense that starting wars isn’t a top priority for the nation, Dillow is wondering where that leaves our professional warriors. He wrote, “I know that guys like Staff Sergeant Mac [his column’s mystery subject] will persevere through the hard times of peace” (my emphasis).
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Gordo, don’t fret too much. Your pal Mac can always join a mercenary force. Or Dana Rohrabacher’s next campaign.
TILTING AT WATER TOWERS
Orange County has spectacular views, and on Feb. 8, Oscar Omar Ramirez decided to experience one for himself. Just before midnight, he skirted a security fence to climb the 153-foot Santa Ana water tower near Interstate 5 and Grand Avenue. The tower, 81 years old and repainted last year during a $1.1 million renovation, is part of Santa Ana’s “Downtown Orange County” marketing campaign, designed to attract potential new residents and business owners leery of the city’s less-than-savory reputation. Ramirez didn’t help. Police say that in addition to trespassing, the 40-year-old was intoxicated, which may have been the reason it took cops a while to coax him down.