Photo by Keith MayDear Supes:

You guys are amazing. Nearly every Tuesday morning, you five sit in your plush supervisor chairs behind that big supervisor dais and mouth safe, stern supervisorial platitudes about "process" and "public service." Sometimes I even believe them. But then you vote as if "public service" means "rewarding cronies."

I'm referring to your unanimous June 4 vote to extend Larry Slagle's monopoly over John Wayne Airport (JWA) taxicab service another two and a half years. No bids, no consideration of outside offers—none of the normal requirements that accompany all county contracts involving more than $25,000.

Nope. Based on the hollow assurances of airport staff, you gave Slagle complete control over all JWA taxi service. In fact, you had the extension of Slagle's interim contract buried in the consent calendar until the day before the meeting, when airport director Alan Murphy belatedly advised that "it would be appropriate" to discuss it in public.

Even then, there was never any doubt what you would do. Slagle's joint venture—consisting of his own Anaheim Yellow Cab, California Yellow Cab and Fiesta Taxi—"is doing an excellent job," Murphy told you during the meeting. "They stepped in under very short notice," Murphy said, explaining how Slagle's joint venture had picked up the airport contract when American Taxi went bankrupt in late November 2001. And that was enough for you.

I know it's difficult, but think back to 1996—difficult because it was one of those rare moments when your board actually did the right thing. You see, in 1996, you broke with 22 years of catering to Slagle's every whim and finally put the JWA cab contract out to public bid.

Slagle was getting away with government-sanctioned murder. He already had an exclusive monopoly over cab service in Anaheim. He had a dollar surcharge on every airport cab ride that went right into his pocket. Hell, he had even been a member of the airport commission—the body overseeing taxi service—for eight years. Still, for two decades, the county supes and airport commissioners would not even attempt to nudge him aside, even though other cab companies were offering to make the county more money.

Grudgingly, bitterly, the Board of Supervisors finally accepted bids from other cab companies. And then you did the impossible—you moved Slagle out and brought in A Taxi.

Granted, the remarkably unscrupulous Rick Schorling, a former helicopter broker and scam artist, ran A Taxi. And he ran American Taxi, which won the contract in 2000. To this day, Schorling has outstanding judgments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars against him that he will likely never pay. There is no doubt Schorling should never be allowed near the airport again.

It's understandable that Schorling's disastrous bankruptcy late last year—and the complete repossession of all American Taxi cabs—spooked you guys. Maybe the fact that Schorling is now working for South Coast Cab gives you the chills. Maybe the lobbying for a continuance of the contract by South Coast Cab attorney Maryann Cazzell—who also represented Schorling's American Taxi—simply infuriates you. It certainly rattled Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

"Who created this mess—you or the county?" Spitzer roared at Cazzell during the hearing. "You're the one who couldn't pay the bills! Our job is to provide continuous excellent service. We're trying to clean up the mess."

South Coast Cab president Saavas Roditas' counterclaim that "Rick Schorling has been a good operator" is beyond questionable. His assertion that "any cab company can go bankrupt" is just a clumsy attempt to whitewash the chaos that plagued Schorling's company. But Roditas said something really sharp before his three-minute public comment period elapsed: ignoring public bids for the airport contract is "not very fair or democratic."

Clearly, you guys learned the wrong lesson from the Schorling fiasco. What you should have done is stepped back and forced airport staff to be more vigilant and thorough when evaluating bid proposals. That way a Rick Schorling—whose history of running helicopter scams in the 1980s is thoroughly documented in court records—would be eliminated in the selection process.

Instead, you just slipped back into bed with Slagle. Doing so tells county residents that you prefer sweetheart deals to open public bids. True, Slagle probably won't go bankrupt in the next two years, but how can you be sure his deal to provide the county with 13 cents per passenger is the best you can get?

Perhaps Slagle really is providing the best deal, but the only way to know for certain is by calling for open, honest public bids. And thanks to you, we won't be able to do that until the end of 2004.


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