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For eight years now, the office of “Public Administrator – Public Guardian,” has been helmed by John Williams, who just might be Orange County’s worst “public servant” since Mike Carona was shown the prison door. Comfy as a bug in a rug in the OC’s corrupt, incestuous political machine, there’s severe danger this oft-investigated teflon Don will continue his reign of waste and incompetence another four years if he squeaks through the elections this year. Please, Republicans, independents and Democrats, before you check off, or speed past, that part of your ballot, you really need to hear about:
- Williams’ lavish waste of taxpayer money building a top-heavy agency stuffed with cronies in unneeded six-figure “management” positions;
- the numerous citizens’ estates left languishing for years due to overworked demoralized staff, till they were eaten away by PA fees;
- the TWO scathing grand jury reports on his tenure, which have had no effect on this well-protected machine politico;
- this six-figure-salaried administrator’s latest double-dipping scandal;
- more and sundry malfeasance; and
- his TWO worthy challengers, and why it’s not a problem that there are two.
Well… what does the “Public Administrator – Public Guardian” do?
“Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.
No-one was saved.”
The office of the “Public Administrator – Public Guardian” generally flies under our radar, but in the words of the first Grand Jury report,
…the Agency is charged with the task of administering the estates, totaling over $38 million, and the lives or deaths of over a thousand people each year. These people have the misfortune of being alone, alone to the degree that they do not have anyone willing or able to care for them when they can no longer care for themselves.
Until 2005, Administrator (an elected post responsible for administering the estates) and Guardian (an appointed post taking care of citizens who can’t care for themselves) were two separate offices. In a clever 2005 move, Mr. Williams managed to combine the two offices under the same roof, and then set to work making the two functions inseparably intertwined, so that he could not be removed from the plum “appointed” position without us voters removing him from the elected position.
This situation makes John Williams basically untouchable, and answerable to nobody. (The Board of Supervisors discovered this to their dismay when they tried to implement the GJ’s recommendation to separate the two. Supervisor Moorlach has confessed that agreeing to the 2005 move was a “huge mistake” on his part.)
John Williams came to this $125,000 a year gig (car allowance, health care, retirement, etc makes it closer to $200,000) from a background as a sheriff’s deputy. Critics point to his total lack of experience or interest in the sort of work this agency does as an explanation for his abysmal performance, along with the fact that offices like this are generally used merely as stepping stones to higher office, and suggest that if it weren’t for his constant scandals we would have seen a move to Williams for Assembly by now.
TOP-heavy & Wasteful
The 2005 restructuring of the agency was presented as a way to save taxpayers money – estimated at $300,000 over the ensuing three years. [Pause for uproarious and bitter laughter.] In fact, as the Grand Jury discovered, Williams doubled the “annual base salary” at the agency with ten new “at-will” management positions with six-figure salaries, staffed generally with friends from DA Tony Rackaukas’ office. For a total extra cost of over a million annually to you and me, fellow taxpayer.
Oh, here’s a bit you pension-conscious conservatives will really love:
The Grand Jury reviewed the case wherein an employee was promoted to a top management position within a year of retirement. The position was at will and there were no education and experience requirements. That one year of promotion is costing the taxpayers of Orange County an additional $56,674 per year in pension benefits and, using the IRS life expectancy tables, for this employee, the taxpayers of OC will pay at least $1,453,100 in additional pension benefits. This figure does not include statutory cost of living increases.
Sources tell me that Williams is not so much a hands-on manager, but rather is highly dependent on these managers he’s hired from Rackauckas, generally taking their advice on personnel and policy matters while he spends more of his time flying from conference to conference as part of his other job as a trustee for the South OC Community College District (SOCCCD.) Making him a bit of a Rackauckas puppet at the PA-PG gig, if you will. But as these appointed management positions are both “at will” and unnecessary, most of them could be eliminated by replacing Williams this year with either of his two credible opponents – then we would see the savings.
Overworked demoralized staff, suffering outcomes.
Concomitant with this top-heavy management policy, the caseworkers or “deputies” who do the actual work have seen their caseloads grow to the unmanageable level of around 90 per worker (a New York study recommends 40 to 50.)
Along with the demoralization caused by both overwork and outrageously arbitrary personnel policies and favoritism, numerous cases have been neglected and drawn out for years, until those estates are eaten up by fees – fees from the agency itself. The Grand Jury report documents one such case, but I’m told by my inside sources that there have been many.
Nothing happens, thanks to Supervisors Janet, Pat Bates & Norby.
The first Grand Jury report, entitled “The Guardian of Last Resort,” makes for infuriating reading; I’ve only touched on a few of the major problems it brings up. Naturally it concludes with a list of recommendations, which notably included putting the agency back under the control of the Health Care Agency (HCA) as it was before 2005.
The OC Board of Supervisors met to consider the GJ’s recommendation. Williams didn’t even show up, but was represented by his lawyer Phil Greer. Supervisors John Moorlach and Bill Campbell voted to follow the GJ’s suggestions and bring Williams to heel, but they were overruled by Janet Nguyen, Pat Bates and Chris Norby (who are also represented, coincidentally, by lawyer Greer.)
So Williams, feeling exonerated, continues most of the policies criticized by the GJ. The only way to put an end to his waste and incompetence is at the ballot box. That means YOU AND ME, gentle reader.
Our invaluable but less-famous colleagues at “Dissent: The Blog” (who’ve been dogging Williams since we were kids) have uncovered a troubling series of timesheets from the years 2005-7 in which Mr. Williams claims to be working at his PA job in his Santa Ana office at the same time he was demonstrably at various college-board-related conferences around the country. No explanation has been forthcoming from Williams, not even his usual dismissal of any criticism as “politically motivated,” but blogger Roy “B. Van Traven” Bauer has been assured by a County spokesman that the matter is “under review.”
Funny about all that taxpayer-funded travel he gets to do on the taxpayer dime, in his second job as SOCCCD trustee (which pays only $4800 year plus $16,240 health & welfare benefits, but evidently includes unlimited travel expenses.) A Jennifer Muir expose last January showed that he spent $29,578 traveling to conferences and meetings to represent the district from July 2007 through December 2009 – more than four times as much as any of the other trustees, most of whom spent less than a thousand over the same period.
This was always allegedly justified by education-related conferences he simply had to attend, to keep his fellow trustees abreast of current thinking. But it was pointed out that his trips are most often to the East Coast, specifically Orlando and Tampa, where he has family, and that similar conferences regularly occur in California, which he never seems to take advantage of. Records also came to light of one John Williams weekend out on Tampa that somehow cost OC taxpayers $3720 – what sort of remarkable education-related knowledge justified that expenditure?
Maybe it is all worth it. (*snark*) Justifying these trips to Muir, he offered this example:
…For example, Williams said he attended a conference on information technology, where he learned that campus wireless Internet systems could be used to illegally download music and movies, and expose the district to lawsuits. When he returned, he started the process to fix the problem at district campuses.
To sum up: While John Williams makes his $125,000 letting the Public Administrator office go to hell in a handbasket, he flits across the country on the taxpayer dime learning how to stop our college students from illegally downloading music. Just. Brilliant.
What’s with these GOP hacks and their “DEVOUTNESS?”
I’m sorry, I’m as Christian as the next guy, but what is it that drives these pampered, greedy, lazy, fake-conservative political types to make such a public spectacle of their religiosity? I know you’ve seen it. The OC Weekly documents Williams controversially leading an August ’08 Board meeting in a prayer prefaced by a cute story of a kindergarten girl telling her teacher he’s going to Hell for not believing the Bible literally. (video here – go to 7 minutes) And during the first three years of his term as PA I’m told he used to pressure supervisors and managers to attend regular Calvary Chapel prayer meetings with him, until someone or something made him stop that uncomfortable practice.
The Opponents of John Williams!
You’ll see three other names on your ballot when you get to “public administrator,” besides John Williams. One of them is goofball perennial-candidate and once-funny paranoid schizo Steve Rocco. Resist throwing your vote away for a cheap laugh, because the other two contenders are both worthy, competent, experienced and honest. And no, it’s not a problem that there are two good candidates – as long as Mr. Williams is kept down below 50% in this nonpartisan race, he’ll have to run against ONE of them in November, which will give us more time to get the word out about this eight-year train wreck. MEET:
Colleen is a paralegal who worked in the PA office for almost twelve years, drawn to its mission of “helping the elderly, disabled, sick and mentally ill.” Eventually she was promoted to oversee a clerical unit that administers estates, but was dismayed to see the ill effects of John Williams’ 2003 takeover. As she told OCLNN’s Erik Holmes,
I watched the agency deteriorate. The way he reorganized the agency and doubled the management, which wasn’t needed … trickled down to where it started affecting the staff. They had higher caseloads so they couldn’t go out into the field and see the mentally ill.
She left the PA office in February 2009 to be a deputy clerk at the OC Superior Court, because “the stress of watching things fall apart became too much for her.” This past January she decided she could best serve the public by running to replace John Williams so she can fix the department. If elected, she “plans to decrease the number of management positions and lobby the Board of Supervisors to allow her to hire more case workers.”
Here’s Colleen’s website.
I’m backing Kevin Vann, who’s been working for the county for 23 years, the last five in the Public Guardian’s office, managing the affairs of 70 to 80 people. He’s perfectly aware of all John Williams’ problems, helping steer me to all the right information, but is careful what he says on the record, as he still works with the guy. The most he’ll say is “I’m not running against anyone. I’m running for the people I serve.”
I met Kevin at Phu Nguyen’s campaign office, where he walks precincts every week, handing out Phu’s literature along with his own. Since Colleen had already spoken at the DFA meeting, I invited him to speak at the next one; we offered him two minutes and he took much more but we didn’t mind because his enthusiasm when talking about his job was so infectious. Just like Colleen he truly cares about helping people, and especially enjoys the times when he is able to reconnect long-lost relatives which seems to happen not infrequently in this line of work.
Kevin provided Jennifer Muir with his four-point plan for reforming the agency if he wins:
- Conduct a thorough assessment of current processes, staffing and duties to effectively determine the best course of action to increase efficiencies and quality services.
- Utilize advancements in current technologies to improve case management systems and functionality, thereby increasing accuracy and productivity.
- Increase transparency and accountability by closely adhering to established county policies in personnel and business practices.
- Improve employee productivity and commitment by investing in their growth and providing appropriate resources.
Colleen and Kevin are friends who will each support whichever one goes on to run against Williams in November, and they look forward to working together after that to make the Public Administrator’s office an efficient cost-effective agency that once again serves the public, rather than a gravy train. So vote for either Colleen or Kevin, and whatever you do, don’t vote drunk and waste your vote on Rocco for laughs: