The Foothill/Eastern toll road agency kept nearly $220,000 in contract approvals hidden from public scrutiny in the past year using a budget loophole that even its board members didn’t know about, records show, according to the O.C. Register.
That loophole allowed the agency to circumvent its own rules and approve or change major contracts with nothing more than the support of its chairwoman, Dana Point Councilwoman Lisa Bartlett, and the signature of its chief executive officer.
And how did the toll road agency spend this money? On a vast collection of leeches that included (courtesy of the O.C. Register and the Voice of OC:
- Gable PR, a San Diego public-relations firm that the agency first hired for $20,000 in 2007 to provide “media relation services.” Its contract grew to 25 times that in subsequent years, to more than $500,000. Chief executive Tom Gable said its work included meeting with Chambers of Commerce and local elected officials. The contract amendment approved in 2013 reduced the overall value by $35,000.
- Canyon Strategies, a consultant first hired for $27,000 in 2012, whose contract has since grown to $243,000, an eight-fold increase without a board vote. It was brought in to “identify interest groups” and “build consensus” for the proposed toll-road expansion. The 2013 amendments alone increased its value by $108,000.
- Richard Katz Consulting, whose contract more than tripled in 2013, from $23,400 to $79,200. Katz, a former Assemblyman, said the change lowered his rates but extended the term of his contract. He said he’s working on legislative strategy, outreach and communications.
- Robert W. Naylor Advocacy, a Sacramento lobbying firm, hired for $25,000 in mid-2013 and then kept on five additional months – for another $25,000.
- Curt Pringle & Associates: Pringle’s lobbying and public affairs firm received a $25,000 contract last year to “review current toll road extension proposal” and “review other strategic opportunities for the agency.”
- Pacific Strategies Corp.: Cunningham’s firm received a $25,000 contract last year to “perform community outreach and public affairs services in support of the agencies’ transition to all electronic tolling.” The contract was amended days after it was awarded to clarify that Laura Cunningham, Matt Cunningham’s wife, would be the one providing the services.
- Loeb and Loeb: Former Gov. Gray Davis firm was awarded a $30,000 contract under Bartlett’s authority to “provide legal advice and counsel,” the spreadsheet states. Spitzer alleges that the contract was outside Bartlett’s authority, because the contract isn’t for a legislative purpose.
- California Strategies: This CEO-approved $25,000 contract is “to develop strategies for community support, legislation,” help in getting a permit and “other long term strategies to help reposition the agency and its leadership.” Spitzer publicly singled out the contract because it was awarded while the firm was under investigation by a state watchdog agency.
- Robert W. Naylor Advocacy: Former Assemblyman Robert Naylor’s $50,000 contract awarded last year, which received an increase granted by Bartlett, is to “provide strategic, legislative and administrative advocacy services,” the spreadsheet reads.
- The Oftelie Co.: This consulting firm owned by former Orange County Transportation Authority CEO Stan Oftelie received a $25,000 contract last year to “provide advice to the CEO regarding opportunities for the Agency to play a more effective role in resolving regional traffic and transportation issues,” states the spreadsheet.
- Vectis Strategies: The firm was founded by former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Packard and received a $25,000 contract last year to “assist in CEO outreach, implement media strategies, improve public opinion of agency and additional initiatives as directed,” according to the spreadsheet.
And why was all this money spent? It all boils down to the continued attempt by developers to coerce the construction of a 241 extension in pristine areas in South Orange County. The developers want to build more homes down there and need the toll road extension so that they can make that happen.
Building more homes at a time when our state lacks water and energy is of course crazy – but that won’t hinder Pringle and his cabal.
Bartlett by the way is running for the OC Board of Supervisors. This scandal ought to finish off her campaign and her political career.