We were struck with 2nd District Supervisor and OCTA Director John Moorlach’s candor in his email update Thursday last:
Per MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — February 7, 2013 [with our annotations]:
I did not react well to two recent recruitments at the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). OCTA has had the same public member on its Board since 1993, nearly twenty years. When the end of his term was nearing, OCTA requested that the Board members assist with recruiting candidates for this position, which I did in one or more of my UPDATES (as you know, I don’t do a newsletter but, I will make an occasional announcement). I received several telephone calls from interested parties inquiring if it would be worth the time to submit an application. I strongly encouraged these overly qualified candidates to give it a shot. OCTA’s then Board Chair [Will Kempton] assembled a small committee, reviewed the candidates, determined that not one of them “measured up,” and reappointed the incumbent. I was infuriated because I knew that a number of candidates not only “measured up,” but would have enhanced the quality of the OCTA Board. The full OCTA Board was not even given a choice between the incumbent or candidates A and B. The same sort of cram-down occurred with OCTA’s CEO selection [Darrell Johnson] process. Needless to say, I have not been a happy camper. And I don’t want a similar process here at the Board of Supervisors.
We won’t be so politically correct — Supervisor Moorlach is talking about Greg Winterbottom, the current OCTA Board Chairman. Winterbottom’s formal position on the Board is as a “Public Member”. Every two years or so, the two Public Member Board positions (which have the same voting privileges and insurance benefits as the other 15 Directors) are supposed to be selected from interested public applicants. OCTA advertises for the recruitments in the Register and on their website. One might naively think, if one had any engineering, public service or financial background on one’s professional resume, s/he might have an opportunity at this position as it’s a sure resume builder and an excellent reference if one were interested in running for public office. Unfortunately, one must also be a member of the OC political ruling class as the Board and the OCTA’s past two CEOs aren’t especially warm to real outsiders. If you’ve got any kind of a “reputation” as anyone who’s ever publicly questioned the operation or finances (especially Measure M) of this $1.1 billion agency, or as a troublesome blogger, you might as well save the toner in printing your application.
OCTA’s most renowned Public Member was former Costa Mesa Mayor Peter Buffa. Buffa leveraged the job into a presumably lucrative position with Barclay’s Capital to end up “sitting on the opposite side of the table” from his former colleagues during a bond negotiation per this Voice of OC piece from 2011: Former OCTA Board Member’s New Job Exposes Conflict of Interest Loophole.
This is Winterbottom’s second time as Board Chairman. He’s been there so long to have cycled through the undocumented, but internally understood, rotation of chose a Supervisor/chose a regular Board member/chose a Public member for Vice Chair and then Chair every January (there’s no public choice in this process). In Winterbottom’s case, he’s also in a unique position as former Huntington Beach Mayor and OCTA Director Cathy Green once said to a friend of ours, since he’s crippled and in a wheelchair, that he needs to be on the Board to represent the disabled. In researching this piece, we noted that Winterbottom uses a van for his personal transport — without it, “it’s virtually impossible for me to travel” says the presumed advocate for public transit for the disabled.
Greg Winterbottom has been on this Board for 20 years — far too long. To our knowledge, he’s never questioned OCTA’s management for some of the ridiculous expenditures they’ve recommended like TWO nine-figure streetcar systems in Anaheim and Santa Ana or a $178 million barn in Anaheim for the high-speed rail boondoggle that’s never coming to the OC. Where was he on recent bus fare increases for the transit-dependent? We know of one occasion where he acknowledged, but did nothing about an analysis project that was requested by the Board but never completed. Per his OCTA bio, Winterbottom appears to have no solid financial or engineering experience. He is a member of MSRC, a clean air group and a past Villa Park city councilman.
We can speculate, but don’t know precisely why Winterbottom has been allowed to stay in the Public Member position for so long. It’s unclear that the position is term-limited as the others are, and since its occupant is not an elected public official like the other 15, s/he’s not subject to be replaced if an election is lost. We’d also have to guess it’s got something to do with political correctness in that no other Board Member except Mr. Moorlach is asking the question why Winterbottom is a perpetual Board Member. Is he just a reliable vote for the past two free-spending CEOs? We wonder if Winterbottom’s pitied and his handicap guarantees him this legacy position for as long as he wishes, precluding others from fairly competing for it? Might someone else, with better experience and less institutional memory, deserve the opportunity? Or maybe after so much time, he just knows where the skeletons are buried.
Further, as a Public Member, like the other few that have been selected for this job, OCTA offers NO way to contact him — there’s no email address or phone number, or anyway to reach this individual who is supposed to be representing the general public’s interest on the OCTA Board (this is also the case with the entire Measure M Taxpayers Oversight Committee).
So once again…
It’s time the OCTA Board be re-examined as to its size, composure and lack of public input or choice in its selection. As we suggested December last, this Board ought to be elected — it’s too important and controls too much money NOT to be constituted with deserving and motivated financial and engineering professionals.
The Public Member position serves no purpose other than to perpetuate careers and, in Buffa’s case, raise questions of propriety. It can be eliminated with the Board downsized as we suggested “to a more effective group at least half its current size, say seven or nine people. The non-voting Caltrans representative can also be eliminated as worthless.”
This Board is NOT unlike other Boards of elected citizens that are easy examples to cite: School Boards, Community College Districts, Water, Park, Library or Sanitary Districts, per this list of election results from the OC Registrar of Voters, are all populated by ordinary voters who are ELECTED via campaigns based on their education and experience (and funds). We NEED accountants and engineers on this Board, NOT career politicians with personal agendas or who are just seeking to fill out their political resumes.